Film review Disney still has that cartoon magic. Just look at the awesome phenomena that is Frozen. The latest from the Mouse House is Big Hero 6, the studio’s first cartoon collaboration with Marvel. Rather than go for a showy, already-famous tale, Disney has plumbed the depths of the Marvel collection for a little-known comic, featuring 14-year-old robot-building genius Hiro and his cuddly, loveable robot sidekick Baymax.
In the original, Hiro is a Japanese kid living in Tokyo, but for its version, Disney has opted to steer away from any manga comparisons or cultural no-nos by building its own alternate reality city, San Fransokyo. You might think this is a bit of a cop-out, more evidence of Disney’s famous reluctance to feature anything other than large-eyed Caucasians in its cartoons, but it turns out to be a good move.
The fact that it’s a different reality gives Disney carte blanche to make Hiro and his friends people we can recognise and keep San Fransokyo as an alternate now, instead of a misty future that would explain the huge advances in robotics and technology. The city is a true hodgepodge of cultural references, with the geography of San Francisco, but signage and reams of display ads in Japanese and little twists on architecture, like Japanese-style roof arches on the Golden Gate Bridge.
After the opening set-up of the city, Hiro’s robot-building prowess and the close relationship he has with his brother Tadashi – who built Baymax as a healthcare assistance robot – the story really kicks off with the heroic death of Tadashi. Devastated, Hiro retreats into himself until the day he inadvertently awakens Baymax and the robot sets out to make him feel better. With a mystery to solve and a super-villain on the loose, Hiro decides to use his robot skills to create a team of superheroes out of his friends, with Baymax by their side.
Disney makes the most of Baymax’s incongruously balloon-like bulk for plenty of whipsmart laughs, like his toneless response in the midst of imminent danger and Hiro’s panic, “I am not fast”. But like so many of its cartoon movies, this one is packed with heart, too. We get plenty of time to get to know Tadashi, so it’s a real wrench when he’s gone. And his death is not forgotten as soon as the action starts either, it’s a driving force behind Hiro’s motivations and a constant presence for him, even when he’s having fun with Baymax.
Disney is never one to shy away from a sequel, even the dismal ones like Tangled Ever After and Aladdin: The Return of Jafar. But a follow-up to this one seems inevitable. Although it’s a standalone tale, Big Hero 6 feels like a Marvel origin story – there are tons of places to go with the story. Let’s hope the sequel gives us the same invention, humour and ability to make a roomful of grown-up film reviewers go suspiciously quiet during the sad bits. ®
Director Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Ryan Potter, Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph, Damon Wayans, Jr.
Release date 30 January (UK) / 7 November (US)
More info Studio website