Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review - Sooooo Funny

Big Hero 6 was unexpected viewing for me and my friends. We went out to see Whiplash, only to find that many others had the same idea over the sleepy holiday weekend. Our showing was sold out, and we didn't know what to do. As we looked up movie times, suddenly one voice said, "Big Hero 6?! That's supposed to rock! It's starting in 10 minutes!"

As we walked to the other theater nearby, all I could think was (a) that my go-to review site had given it a mediocre grade (a B- is mediocre for this kind of film) and (b) that it didn't really matter - I would just go and try to enjoy a movie in good company. A transit problem had me walk almost two miles home after a sleepless night.

My expectations were torn apart. Quickly, too.

Big Hero 6 tells a story set in some semi-futuristic world where high technology is readily available, people hold underground (and illegal?) robot battles, and the town featured in the movie is called San Fransokyo. We begin where one of those robotic gladiator matches is taking place. Hiro, an undersized kid, steps in and tries to fumble his way through a match... And after five minutes everything goes to hell.

Although Hiro is rescued by his college age brother, Tadashi, the brothers are picked up the cops and then bailed out by Aunt Cass, their legal guardian and only living parental figure. In short order, we're introduced to the world and basic conflict of Big Hero 6 - Hiro wants to make good money by, basically, playing games instead of using his impressive intellect for something concrete. But nothing can prepare this little wanna-be hustler for what his older sibling wants to show him: the advanced lab that Tadashi works at, where he and his four cool colleagues are developing machines that are truly next-level technology.

This is also where both Hiro and the audience are introduced to the breakout star of this picture - Baymax, a thoroughly-huggable mobile medical robot. Soon, Hiro is on the path to some legitimate purpose (and higher education). Everything looks bright... until tragedy strikes.

What follows is a lot of difficult lessons about growing up, about understanding yourself and others, and about what people put out into the world around them. Big Hero 6 had many more adult tones than I was expecting, and it also had more maturity and depth than I was expecting from a non-Pixar animated film.

But above all, BH6 was so freaking funny. It was the funniest movie that I saw in 2014, and its impact was profound. The entire theater was filled with joy, with my friends and I often missing bits of dialogue because we were, simply, hysterical with laughter. It would be impossible to figure out how much of the running time reduced me to a giggling mess, but at least one of my companions was in tears.

I love that we centered on two characters that aren't straight white men. And, above all, I love Baymax! He's so slow and thoughtful, so careful and deliberate, that it goes beyond being adorable (one of favorite adjectives, to be honest) and into some grander realm of cuteness. I also love that Baymax has a hero story here - and especially that he (arguably)needed to toughen up, but never lost his sense of purpose. This wonderful robot is probably the most developed role here.

The animation was excellent, and the voice cast - while comprised mostly of unknowns - was in fine form. The script and story were quite good, frequently displaying adult tones and themes without feeling tacked-on or too heavy-handed. My friends and I walked out of the picture as rejuvenated as if we'd spent a week at a spa.

So, what were the weak elements of Big Hero 6? Well, I would say that the movie wouldn't have suffered with one less chase sequence. These types of scenes have been wildly popular since Pixar started running away with the ball in Finding Memo. And, while I didn't mind it so much, it's sure to bother my sister-in-law when she sees this with my nephews.

The larger issue has to do with Hiro, our central character. For one thing, he's put into a massive amount of danger, and there's no reason why the cops shouldn't be involved. Ultimately, this lead gets both a superhero origin and a childhood adventure, and I think that the superhero bits don't really hold up well. Why does such a young kid stay in so much danger? Why does the bad guy try to kill him? Would anyone want him to be superhero? Or follow Hiro's lead?

The far bigger issue is [SPOILER - SKIP TO PARA AFTER NEXT VIDEO] that the cheeky bugger gets so much screen time that it undermines what this movie ultimately becomes: a superhero team movie. But what do we really know about the other people on the team? We know they're smart and very nice, but are they the kind of people to risk their own lives to stop a criminal? To avenge a friend?

Much more importantly, why would they help out a freaking child in a life or death endeavor? You can understand them responding to the sudden reveal of what's been going on in the story, but helping Hiro out would gradually seem like a worse and worse idea. BH6 never credibly addresses this.

It's not just that Hiro is a better kids' adventure lead than he is a hero: the bad guy has some basic issues, too. The villain's presence is very slight - which works to build mystery, but means that he never gets enough time to really grow in the mind of the audience. Homeboy needed some monologues, or to be featured in the whole story.

And it bears asking: why is he trying to kill a kid? He's insane, so why isn't he acting more insane? Why didn't he not start a fire and legitimately get his hands on Hiro's invention, anyway? Starting that fire in the exhibition hall offered way more chances to get caught than stealing it later. Why didn't he subvert Hiro's invention, make billions off of it, and drive Krei out of business? What if Hiro hadn't been so stupid as to leave the control band for his robots lying around?

Even on a more thoughtful plot note - wasn't Tadashi's goal to make tons of Baymax robots to heal people all over the world? So isn't Hiro's adventuring at the end sort of a selfish betrayal of all that? Shouldn't he be taking unmodified Baymax units and shipping them worldwide?... And, if he did, could they be misused?

Anyway, I strongly suggest you see Big Hero 6, because its strengths as entertainment vastly outweigh its weaknesses as a narrative torn between kids adventure stories and superhero world-building. Go to se it especially if your heart is feeling heavy. You'll forget all your worries for a while, I promise.

That review I noted above talks about the film being saved by its design and animation. Yet, while that reviewer is generally a genius, I have to say that those two elements are outdone by the pic's sense of humor - and the last aspect makes the whole thing incredible, despite the flaws. It's part of why I've bent over backwards to avoid spoilers. And, by the by, if you have seen it and want to learn more about the glorious fist bump (of course you do, it's grand), my holiday gift to you is that you can learn more here (which I learned about from this article).

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