Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Six Heroes Who Aren't the Avengers

Pixar Studios is currently in a bit of a slump; their last few movies have been merely good, after a long streak of excellence. Ironically, their parent company has been the one to step up to fill their gap. Disney had commercial and creative hits with Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, and most recently added Big Hero 6 to that list.

Superhero origin movies are rather commonplace these days, but Big Hero 6 manages to be one of the best of them. It sort of sneaks up on that aspect, even more subtly than say, Batman Begins. At least half the movie has unfolded before anyone dons a costume. By that point, a strong emotional grounding has been established, giving a reason and weight to the superheroics.

That grounding builds on the tradition of Disney films like Bambi and The Lion King, in that it depicts some truly dark tragedy. Young Hiro Hamada is struggling to cope with a profound loss, and turns to the innocent, child-like robot Baymax for help. Their pairing is a powerful core around which the movie is built. Relative newcomer Ryan Potter gives a great performance as Hiro, being far more relatable than many teenagers on film. Animation veteran Scott Adsit (though you may know him from 30 Rock) is hilarious as Baymax, working within the robot character's one-note programming to give an impressively nuanced performance.

The rest of the titular "6" are definitely less developed characters, but the voice actors do inject a lot of fun into their roles. Perhaps because I watch(/ed) both Silicon Valley and Happy Endings, I felt that T.J. Miller and Damon Wayans Jr. overshadowed Genesis Rodriguez and Jamie Chung just a bit. Still, I could see any of these secondary characters being a favorite of any given audience member. Also in the cast are Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, and Disney animation regular Alan Tudyk -- each of them refreshingly cast a bit off type from what you might expect in a live-action film.

The visual design is just as strong as the story. It's all set in the fictitious city of San Fransokyo, which cleverly combines many Japanese elements with the distinct vibe of the sloped, tightly packed City by the Bay. There are also many triumphs of animation, from the eye-catching motion of the villain's army of "micro-bots," to the more clever work that lends humanity to the physically limited character of Baymax.

I give Big Hero 6 an A-. In fact, it earns a slot high in my Top 10 list of 2014 movies. With as many hits in a row now as Pixar has had relative misses, I look forward to Disney's next film with great anticipation.

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