Tokyo 2014 Review: BIG HERO 6, Sentimental Fun for Gamer Kids

Writer; London/Tokyo (@seven_cinemas)
Tokyo 2014 Review: BIG HERO 6, Sentimental Fun for Gamer Kids
As the opener of the Tokyo International Film Festival, the world premiere of Disney Animation Studio's adaptation of Marvel property Big Hero 6 couldn't be more fitting. Set in a world of technological innovation and a city directly inspired by this particular bustling metropolis, this story of friendship between a boy and his robot is a loving ode to Japan and the animation born from it. Coming immediately after mega-hit Frozen, Big Hero 6 actually has more in common with predecessor Wreck-it-Ralph, but where that movie was a nod to retro game nostalgia, Big Hero 6 looks to the future with a protagonist that any disenfranchised 14 year-old gamer will relate to. 

We first meet young robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada gambling in an underground battlebot fight, the bored countenance he wears when dispatching his opponent recognizable to anyone who's ever seen a boy of this age slumped in a chair nonchalantly annihilating enemies on an X-Box. The battlebot clubs are highly illegal but, even after a run in with the law, Hiro shows no sign of giving up his lucrative hobby, until older sibling Tadashi steps in. Opening his younger brother's eyes to a new world of fantastical scientific innovation in the Caltech-inspired school he attends, Hiro is introduced to a team of oddball science nerds and the spectacular projects they're working on. The encounter inspires the wayward lad to take his life in another direction and come up with a project of his own in order to be admitted to the school himself.
A great deal of attention has been placed on showing the close relationship between the two brothers. Hiro, at that snarky difficult age, may not listen to anyone else but he clearly looks up to the confident and assured Tadashi. Their friends consist of a typically diverse set of science kids, speedster Gogo, cowardly giant Wasabi, happy hippy Honey Lemon and comic book-reading slacker Fred. The newly formed gang helps Hiro with his project but his creation, nanobots, has serious implications for the young genius after a school fire traps the head professor and Tadashi dies attempting to rescue him. 

Losing his brother hits the already parentless Hiro hard, and he appears lost until a chance meeting with his brother's own project, Baymax. A giant-size inflatable white robot, Baymax was designed for medical reasons resulting in an overly caring attitude and cuddly appearance that grates on the jaded youngster. From this point the adventure really begins, with Baymax stumbling off to accidentally discover the lair of the villainous Mr Kabuki, who has stolen Hiro's invention and is using it for evil. Hiro's band of science friends are drawn into the adventure and forced into battle by adapting their own inventions to form a super hero team to do battle with their nemesis.

While Wreck-it-Ralph lost its way in the second half Big Hero 6 manages to keep things tight, and when the action takes off it really flies, rocketing from scene to scene, maintaining focus on the sentimental core without getting bogged down by it. Baymax is of course the heart of the story, forming an emotional rock for the fragile Hiro. Much of the humour is found in the cuddly robot's inflatable frame and clumsy nature, and for a super advanced robot he maintains a sweet naivety, skilfully expressed by the animators with the simplest movements of his almost featureless face. The initially standoffish Hiro must learn to accept Baymax for what he is, overcome his grief and stop trying to turn his cuddly friend into an armor clad, flying death-bot.

As to be expected from Disney, and even more so coming off the back off a hit the size of Frozen, the studio has pushed the animation to the limits. In Big Hero 6 the most impressive element is the living, breathing city in which the characters inhabit. San Fransokyo, a clumsy mouthful of a portmanteau, appears from a distance like an amped up Chinatown, Asian characteristics splashed across San Francisco's familiar landscape. Look closer and the detail is quite spectacular, particularly the rich backgrounds which carry an almost photorealism at times. Locations range from the homey neighbourhood café where Hiro lives with his aunt to towering neon buildings, while familiar aspects of real cities are rife in this world packed with little details and grand design.

Wearing its technological and Japanese-influenced heart on its sleeve, what's surprising is the homage to comics and comic book culture found throughout the film. The team suits up under the guidance of comic book super fan and hero-wannabe Fred whose father, glimpsed early in a family photograph will be instantly recognizable to fans of the medium. Mr. Kabuki is an impressive villain that will surely appeal to kids weaned on the Spider-man franchise, there's more than a hint of Norman Osborn about him in character and origin, and visually his flowing black robo-tentacles make him an amped up Doc Ock. There's more to the character than meets the eye, however, as the film builds to an emotional finale set amidst a visually spectacular setting where more than one life is put on the line.

Big Hero 6 is an action-packed and enjoyable film that may struggle to capture the hearts of older generations, but its mix of anime, gaming and comic book culture built around themes of friendship and loss will certainly find an audience amongst tech-savvy kids.

Big Hero 6

  • Don Hall
  • Chris Williams
  • Jordan Roberts (screenplay)
  • Robert L. Baird (screenplay)
  • Daniel Gerson (screenplay)
  • Man of Action (Big Hero 6 team and characters created by)
  • Scott Adsit
  • Ryan Potter
  • Daniel Henney
  • T.J. Miller
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Big Hero 6DisneyMarvelTokyo International Film FestivalDon HallChris WilliamsJordan RobertsRobert L. BairdDaniel GersonMan of ActionScott AdsitRyan PotterDaniel HenneyT.J. MillerAnimationActionAdventure

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