Many of the best family animated features, no matter how entertaining, feature at their heart a child’s deepest, most fundamental fears. The loss of a parent ranks amongst the highest of these and was a prominent theme of such recent films as Finding Nemo and How to Train Your Dragon, though there is a long history which can be traced all the way to Bambi. Following in this tradition, Big Hero 6 not only has an orphan as its protagonist but also tackles the lasting effects of bereavement head-on.
In modern-day San Fransokyo, boy genius inventor Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) passes the time trouncing competitors in illegal Robot Wars-style events. He and older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) live with their Aunt Cass following the death of both their parents, who tries her best to care for them and run her corner cafe. In a last-ditch attempt to give Hiro a sense of purpose Tadashi takes him to meet his classmates at university and demonstrates his latest invention, Baymax (Scott Adsit), a medical care robot housed in a child-friendly inflatable body.
Tadashi’s colleagues, a mixed bunch of genre stereotypes, take to Hiro instantly as does head of department Professor Robert Callaghan (Star Trek First Contact and American Horror Story: Asylum‘s James Cromwell), who offers Hiro the opportunity to apply for a place in the laboratory subject to his demonstrating a suitably impressive idea. Inspired by what he has seen, Hiro arrives at the showcase having conceived, designed and created an army of swarming microbots that can assume any macroform purely by thought control.
His success brings him more than he expects, with not only an offer to join Professor Callaghan’s students, but also from ruthless industrialist Alistair Krei (Firefly andTucker and Dale vs Evil’s Alan Tudyk) who is eager to develop the microbots. Turning Krei down, Hiro and his new friends are celebrating when triumph turns suddenly to tragedy, and Hiro loses not only his invention but also that which is dearest to him.
Withdrawn and depressed, Hiro initially retreats into himself, failing to attend his course and refusing to return the messages of Tadashi’s friends until he accidentally activates Baymax, who immediately diagnoses his condition and sets about treating it, unexpectedly leading him into danger when they discover that what they thought was the last remaining microbot still senses the presence of others within the city, and with the help of the lab pack and their collective ingenuity, Hiro learns not only to deal with his grief but also to solve the bigger mystery of the fire which destroyed the university.
Adapted from one of Marvel Comics’ more recent and obscure properties by Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson and Robert L Baird, Disney has made many changes to the characters for the big screen. Nevertheless, after getting off to a slowish and not particularly original start, Big Hero 6, like Baymax, finds its wings and soars through an action-filled second half to an intensely emotional climax.
Characterisation ranges from stereotyped (the lab pack) to adequate (Hiro) to inspired (Baymax), but every member of the team serves a purpose and all the supporting players – T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr and Génesis Rodríguez – bring life to their parts as much as their characters bring their own skills to the technologies they have created.
Directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt), the animation is of the highest order and is as polished and detailed as anything that Pixar can render, from the twinkling neon skyline of San Fransokyo to the dazzling colour splashed interior of a dimensional gate; the portal itself may be SG-1 but beyond it is pure Space Odyssey.
As is now common, the story and animation are littered with genre nods from the obvious to the obscure and any modern animation that homages an entire scene from Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? has plenty going for it. A celebration of science which emphasises that even the smartest kid in the class is at his best when he works in a team, this is a must-see – and it is essential to remain, with 3D glasses on, right until the very end of the credits where the film fully acknowledges its Marvellous origins.
Big Hero 6 is now on general release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX