In the past, I’ve been something of a bitch when it comes to animated movies. The Pixar classics are notorious for beating down my manliness and summoning up the tears – Up, Toy Story 3, even f*cking Ratatouille all got me going. Something about the to-the-bone earnest family connection gets this child of divorce waterworking. It’s clockwork. Minute 82 and I’m Niagara. The last animated movie to move me: How to Train Your Dragon 2. The Mom stuff. The Dad stuff! Whew. Color me teary.
In Big Hero 6, the tragic beats are there – dead parents (c’mon, it’s not a Disney movie without dead rentals), another family member who bites the dust in a ghastly explosion and, yup, a close friend and confidante who also eats the proverbial bullet. The kids in my audience gulped palpably and cried out in waves of concern.
But where was the lump in my throat? Had I grown too cold and calloused to experience my fair share of emotional woes? I felt like Palahniuk’s narrator stuffed into Bob’s meaty bosoms, post-Marla. What the eff was going on?! And then I realized, the fundamental issue was this was more Marvel movie than animated flick. The deaths were without meaning. The sacrifices just temporarily absences; a normative formula via disappearing act that’s taken hold in sequel culture. The offings were like watching Agent Coulson die in The Avengers (spoiler, whoops) or Sam Fury die in Cap 2 (whoops, more spoilers). You just don’t really care. Worse yet, you don’t believe it. This symptom of emotional weightlessness is part and parcel of the pricklinesslessness (not a word) that is the Marvel-verse. Everyone is safe, everything works out. If I had a nicket for every faked death in the MMU, I would have like a full quarter. This consequencelessness (also, not a word) leaves me cold and indifferent. With Big Hero 6, I laughed heartily, I generally enjoyed myself, but I never felt a single thing. Nor did I ever feel a sense of danger.
And that’s why I’m struggling to conjure up words to properly describe my experience with Big Hero 6. It was pretty good. It made me smile. But that’s kinda all one can really say. It’s a hearty head shake; a smiling nod. You can recommend it to just about anyone and they wouldn’t be offended by what they’ve seen. They’ll likely enjoy it quite a bit. It’s got plenty of funny moments to boot, the actions sequences are beautifully realized and colorfully captivating and there is a heart to it, it’s just more robotic than of flesh and blood. But once it’s all over (and with an inevitable load of sequels on the way) there’s really nothing to talk about; nothing that sticks with you.
The latest from Disney is adapted from an under-sung Marvel comic created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau in 1998. The first collaboration between Marvel and Disney since Disney acquired Marvel almost five years back, Big Hero 6 tells the story of 13-year old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a robo-tech genius taken to back alley bot battles. After a narrow escape from one black-market moonlighting or other, Hiro is seduced by older bro Tadashi to go legit and enroll in a prestigious engineering program promising to hone his robotic skills. Decidedly won over by Tadashi’s classmates, his state-of-the-art workspace, his just-finished invention and the winning Professor Calahan (James Cromwell), Hiro decides to win the science fair and earn a place among these up-and-coming science wiz-kids.
Set in the hyper-futuristic San Fransokyo, the superhero saga sees Hiro team up with medic-bot Baymax (Scott Adsit) and fellow students Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) and Fred (T.J. Miller) to take down a mysterious super-villain who’s stolen Hiro’s next-gen microbots and has nothing short of evil intentions for them.
The script has a massive nine credits (!!!) to its name, which accounts for the rigidly structured and carefully manicured movements of Big Hero 6, but co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams find ample opportunities to let the jokes waft from the otherwise stenchy grasp of formulaic mediocrity. The humor flows liberally from the emotionally stinted Baymax, a plushy bot who’s more Wall-E than Vision. From fist bumps to mixed colloquialisms, Baymax’s journey to figure out the human world – and the associated emotions that come with it – is flooded with moments of laughter and genuine warmth. Of the seis big heros, he’s the only one anyone’s going to be talking about exiting the theater. Trouble is, outside of this smiley Stay Puft marshmallow man, the film is inflated with flat characters and narrative breadcrumbs all leading to an overdone and overblown ending you could see from miles away without a super scanner. So while it is paint-by-numbers, the colors used are at least rather pretty.
Big Hero 6 is like a Nilla Wafer; yummy going down but nothing to write home about. It’s funny and entertaining in a bland, gingerbread kind of way. It’s the taste of the scrumptious substancelessness (not a word) that defines the Marvel cinematic universe now bleeding into Disney. I don’t doubt that you’ll like it, maybe even love it, but I challenge you to remember this movie five years down the line. You know, once the Avengers 4 is out.