Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

The emotional core of Big Hero 6 occurs mid-movie. It comes from a place of anger and results in one of the darker sequences I've seen in a Disney animated picture in quite some time. It speaks to the core of what superheroes are and what they aren't, and its resolution provides a framework for the moral underpinnings of the superhero setting. On its own, it justifies the price of the ticket.

Which isn't to say it's the only good thing about the movie. Far from it: there are a lot of phenomenal scenes, funny situations, and great characters. As a whole, it's a lot of fun. And the visuals for the city of San Fransokyo are breathtaking.

Big Hero 6 is absolutely a good movie, but it's not exactly the right movie. It feels like a movie whose script went through a dozen iterations, miraculously wound up being good, but retains too many artifacts from prior drafts. Some of those artifacts go back further, all the way to the source.

The movie is marketed as being inspired by the Marvel comics, which you probably haven't read. I feel safe in making that assumption because, as far as I can tell, almost no one has read these comics: I certainly haven't. That's not too significant, since the concept, setting, and characters in the movie were all drastically changed for the film. Normally, I hate it when an adaptation strays too far from its source material. This time... I kind of wish they'd have been willing to go a little further.

This is fundamentally a story about Hiro, a robotics prodigy dealing with the loss of his brother, and a mechanical nurse named Baymax. Their story is the reason this movie is as good as it is. They are also two characters, not six.

That means there were four other characters crammed in. These were Hiro's brother's friends, a bunch of surprisingly athletic geeks conducting research that could be easily weaponized. I don't want to create the impression I disliked these characters: I actually like them all quite a bit (well, except Fred). The problem is that they had to divvy up maybe a quarter of the movie's screen time, and that didn't leave enough time to develop any of them.

If the producers had been willing to take things a little further and drop the number 6 from the title and concept, they could easily have had time to turn Go-Go's role from minor character into another lead. They could have given her a narrative arc of her own. I greatly appreciate that there's no romance in this movie limiting the female characters, but that would have more impact if these characters weren't simply tethered to another character's story.

I want to stress again that this is a great movie. It's definitely worth your time and money. But it's held back by the fact they tried to force something that isn't really about a team of superheroes into that mold.