Pop Culture at its Best

Tokyo 2014: ‘Big Hero 6’ a compelling futuristic adventure comedy with surprising deftness

Big Hero 6Big Hero 6 Review
Written by Robert L. Baird, Jordan Roberts and Daniel Gerson
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
USA, 2014

Loosely inspired by an obscure series of Marvel comics, Disney’s Big Hero 6 is here to firmly shut the door on Let It Go’s last dying breath with an unlikely origin story that merges the emotional core we’ve come to expect from the House of Mouse, with a splashy, manga-like aesthetic and millenial sensibility. From the vibrant cosmopolitan mash-up San Fransokyo, where the story takes place, to the technologic conundrum of research development versus sale for immediate gain that protagonist Hiro (Ryan Potter) faces, Big Hero 6 weaves together a compelling futuristic adventure comedy with surprising deftness.

Hiro is a messy-haired, hoody-wearing fourteen year-old high school graduate who, initially, squanders his smarts building robots and entering them in illegal fights. His older and more polished brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is part of the elite robotics program at San Fransokyo Tech. In an effort to get him over the adolescent slump, Tadashi persuades his little brother to enter a showcase sponsored by the school, where a good impression on the esteemed robotics Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) can lead to acceptance to his program. However, an accident on the evening of the big presentation leaves Tadashi dead and Hiro’s revolutionary technology missing.

Big Hero 6 (2)Left only with Tadashi’s healthcare robot prototype, Baymax, Hiro must overcome his grief in order to find out what really happened. Teaming up with Tadashi’s classmates Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Fred (T.J. Miller) and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), the group eventually becomes the titular six heroes.

With the Bay Area-influenced setting, replete with Edwardian townhouses and Big Hero 6 filmcable cars, and technology theme, it’s hard not to read into the story as part Silicon Valley parable. Hiro begins as an arrogant know-it-all whose intelligence has, thus far, been entirely self-serving. Call it the post-seed round, pre-IPO/acquisition phase. The robotics students, but Tadashi in particular, represent a more mature outlook, looking for ways that their work can benefit others. Remember the running joke in HBO’s Silicon Valley about entrepreneurs adding the obligatory “…and making the world a better place” to the end of their pitches? At the inciting incident, promoting his project to Professor Callaghan and others, Hiro merely talks the talk; by the climax he walks the walk.

Disney-Big-Hero-6-reviewThe film’s other notable triumph is foregrounding Baymax and Hiro’s relationship in the wake of Tadashi’s death, because of how it broaches the age-old sci-fi question of whether robots can have feelings while still bringing out moments of physical comedic genius. After all, no matter how many software upgrades and karate moves Hiro engineers, Baymax looks more Ghostbusters marshmallow man than battle-ready Gundam.

It remains to be seen whether Big Hero 6 will get the full Marvel treatment with spin-offs and sequels but, as-is, the film stands solid on its own.

– Misa Shikuma

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