By Ed Symkus
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Best. Stan. Lee. Cameo. Ever.
It’s a Disney film, not a Marvel film. One, however, based on based on a series of relatively little-known Marvel Comics. That explains the Stan Lee connection, but doesn’t get into why the film has practically nothing to do with the comics. Yet, that’s OK. The filmmakers’ reinvention of the original story makes it, as so many Disney animated films are, as much for adults as it is for kids.
“Big Hero 6” takes place sometime in the future, in a glitzy city called San Fransokyo. The 14-year-old protagonist, the brilliant but self-absorbed Hiro (Ryan Potter), has a way with machines. He’s invented a cute little robot that he brings to illegal ’bot fights where, when instructed, cute turns to vicious, and the machine can take on all comers.
Hiro and his college-age brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), also a genius, live with their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), who has been caring for them since the death of their parents a decade earlier (Will Disney ever stop killing off parents?). Tadashi does research and inventing at his school’s “nerd lab,” where he brings Hiro, and Hiro is immediately wowed by the amazing projects there, as well as by Tadashi’s nerdy, brainy co-workers.
Tadashi’s best creation to date is Baymax, a big balloon-like vinyl robot who is the be-all, end-all of health care companions, highly programmed and ever-ready to take care on anyone’s medical needs. A quick warning to certain members of the audience: This is a very pro-science movie.
The brothers are close, but the script also gives them a friendly competitive relationship. Tadashi came up with Baymax, so what can Hiro invent that might get him, at his tender age, into college and working alongside Tadashi and his pals? The kid definitely one-ups his big brother, catching the eyes of both educators and capitalists when he produces an army of “microbots that are controlled by a neurotransmitter” (which is something to see onscreen rather than read about here).
But before there’s any more fun in this relentlessly joyful movie, the Disney folks once again go for the tragedy button, killing off Tadashi in a laboratory explosion, and leaving the shattered Hiro in a deep funk, until, via a slight accident, big, clumsy Baymax is activated, who does his best at “helping” Hiro, and the film’s comedy comes roaring back.
Baymax provides most of that comedy relief, sometimes with dry and droll dialogue (even though he doesn’t get the jokes), and sometimes via slapstick (he acts like a drunk when his batteries start to run down).
The film turns into an adventure when Hiro, reunited with Tadashi’s lab rat pals, join him to find out why his remaining microbot (the others were destroyed in the explosion) is getting fidgety. Hiro upgrades Baymax into a fighting machine, then upgrades his pals into sort of nerdy superheroes.
The film has some physical resemblance to Japanese animé as far as the beautiful set designs and general look of everything, and there are some Asian hints to the faces of Hiro and Tadashi — though they’re completely American characters — and let’s not forget the name of the city: San Fransokyo.
The adventure really gets cooking when our protagonists find an abandoned, totally destroyed lab, and a video of what went wrong there. A really strange plot twist takes center stage when Hiro, focusing on the loss of his brother and believing he knows who’s responsible, again upgrades Baymax, this time into a killing machine. Fortunately for the film, and for the young kids in the audience, the wise Baymax makes it clear to Hiro that “I was created to help people.”
Before you know it, once again, the comedy comes roaring back, leading to a wild, action-filled climax. The film falters briefly when it stretches for a completely happy ending. But it shamelessly goes for it, turns surprisingly bittersweet, then, borrowing just a bit from “The Iron Giant,” it slides in for a happy finish.
But don’t leave yet. A post-credits segment gives us some insight to Fred (T.J. Miller), the goofiest of the lab nerds, and tags on that cool Stan Lee cameo, which, if you’re sharp enough, you’ll notice is his second in the film.
Written by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts; directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. With the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell and Alan Tudyk. Rated PG.
Movie review: Futuristic Big Hero 6’ kicks into gear
By Ed Symkus