Big Hero 6 (Movie Review)

Disney's Second Renaissance!

In the last few years, after an arguably troublesome early 2000s for The Walt Disney Company, they have arguably surged back into relevancy, and are perhaps in their second renaissance. But, what was the first, some of you ask? The original Disney Renaissance was when the company went through a phase of intense struggle, primarily through the quality and reception of their animated features, and came out with hit after hit after hit with critics and audiences alike. This started with The Little Mermaid (1989), and was followed by Beauty and the Beast (1991), the first ever animated feature film to be nominated for the Best Film Academy Award (although it lost to Silence of the Lambs), then Aladdin (1992), which was a global smash hit, and finally The Lion King (1994), which was the highest grossing animated feature film at that time, and would not be toppled from its throne for years. Afterwards, Disney entered a phase of flip-flopping, with some great films, and other not so great, in terms of critical performance, the most damage done was arguably by Pocahontas (1995), a film considered generic compared to Disney's previous hits. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), despite being a very good film, was based on a Victor Hugo novel, so a lot had to be cut from the original story. Hercules (1997) and Tarzan (1998) perhaps rounded off Disney's consistent run, leaving them in a far better position than 10 years prior.

So, why do I mention this? Well, after a mild slump in the early and mid 2000s, they came leaping back into the spotlight with The Princess and the Frog (2009), and whilst a modest success, kickstarted the next wave of Disney juggernauts. 2010 brought us Tangled, a film that my mum always goes back to watch every now and again. A nice twist in 2012 gave us Wreck it Ralph, a gamer's dream film, as it encompassed countless cameos from genuine video game stars, the biggest probably being Sonic the Hedgehog and Bowser from the Mario franchise. 2013 gave us the biggest global animated hit of all time, and at the time of writing the fifth highest grossing film of all time, Frozen. Yes, please, get all the 'let it go' jokes out your system. After that, Disney had huge expectations to meet, and their next film was Big Hero 6, based on an obscure Marvel comic, which Disney can use since their acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009. How would it fare, against the titan that stepped before it?

Far better than anyone may have guessed. The film, at the time of writing this article, is reportedly the third most successful Disney film ever, speaking in terms of domestic (American) box office, only behind The Lion King and Frozen, and so far making over $500,000,000 worldwide. But, how does it stand up as a film critically? For the sake of those who have not seen it, I will try to avoid spoilers, as there are some doozies in this film, although some might be hinted at for the sake of discussion, so be warned. The film is set in the fictional San Fransokyo, a surprisingly fitting cultural clash of the American West Coast and Japanese aesthetics. It's an interesting concept that's both easy on the eyes, since it is still primarily American with a Japanese twist on the technological prowess and city structures. The story focuses on Hiro Hamada, a 14 year old prodigy that has already graduated from high school and spends his time making money in backstreet robot fights. His brother, Tadashi, would prefer him to enrol in university, and put his intellect to good use. After introducing him to his friends, their experiments, and Tadashi's own creation, Baymax, 'your personal healthcare companion,' Hiro decides he wants to enrol, but has to impress Professor Callaghan, Tadashi's teacher and renowned roboticist, enough to justify a placement. That is as much of the story I can freely talk about without entering HEAVY spoiler territory, but I should still discuss the characters and themes.

The film tackles emotional turmoil in a very humanist way. Frozen, while a good musical, didn't take full advantage to fully develop characters and their emotional struggle. Even Elsa's intense fear was underplayed. In fact, all the Disney films of late confront a particular emotion. Tangled looked at trust and freedom, Wreck it Ralph into loneliness and friendship, and to be proud no matter who you are. Frozen focused on fear and acceptance. Big Hero 6 probably takes the best approach to a theme in Disney history, and looks at grief and loss. It shows the multiple stages of grief, to a point that the film actually becomes quite dark, while not being out of place. Hiro is a very well written lead, being young and naive without falling into the trap of being annoying as many kid characters do. He makes mistakes, but they are reasonably sound as to how he came to his actions, and he is also very relatable, through his generally happy attitude hiding his true sorrows. Baymax, deuteragonist of the film, is amazing comic relief, and remains a calm and collected individual (he is a robot, after all). However, his low battery mode is one of the funniest things I have seen for a long time in a film, reminding me of those late night returns home from the pub and club. The bond between Baymax and Hiro is heart warming and realistic, with the former acting as therapy for the latter, hoping he is 'satisfied with his care.'

My one gripe with the characters, and the film in general, is the lack of focus on the other characters that Hiro meets and befriends, and they seem rather sidelined, even for secondary characters. In fairness, this is likely because of the need to dedicate time to developing Baymax and Hiro's relationship, and a Disney film is only usually around 90 minutes in length, so compromises have to be made. However, university mascot Fred is a delight, being a different type of comic character than Baymax, the boisterous and outrageous side to the laughs, whilst still being very likeable. There is a post credit revelation involving him that had me rolling in my seat.

The villain, after the forced nature of Frozen's antagonist, is a breath of fresh air. Referring to him as 'Yokai,' he is a masked man who attacks with hordes of micro bots, and appears to be plotting something grand. As more of his character is eventually revealed, it is discovered that his motives are genuine, and while incredibly misguided, it is understandable why he would act this way. While he won't reach iconic villainy like Maleficent, Ursula or Jafar, he is still an interesting character to watch, especially with the amazing animation of the action sequences, rather than being shoehorned in to fit the quota (cough Frozen cough).

Overall, Big Hero 6 is a very solid film throughout, and exceeded my expectations (something every Disney film seems to do). I am happy to see that it is succeeding, and while it probably won't reach the heights of the honestly overrated Frozen, Big Hero 6's unique charm makes this a very satisfying picture. A mixture of emotional storytelling, thrilling action and good laughs encourage me to tell you to see this movie. You will not be disappointed. Unless you dislike marshmallow robots...

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