The Superhero film – like any genre – has its formula.
A steady three act structure. Act 1, we set the tone and characters. Act 2, something doesn’t go right for our hero (or heroes). Act 3, it all comes together, evil is defeated, and good continues to win the day.
So – when the structure is so solid, how do you approach it?
If you’re Disney – it’s with excitement and heart, and that’s on display in their latest release, Big Hero 6.
Loosely based on a Marvel comic (pretty much only the character names and vague concept are ported over here), and set in a made up city called San Fransokyo (it’s like if Blade Runner went right), our lead protagonist is a young teenage genius, Hiro Hamada. Hiro is incredibly bright, but lacks focus, wasting his skills on underground robot fighting. His brother Tadashi, however, is working hard in the robotics wing of San Fransokyo University – with his prize creation being Baymax, an incredibly friendly robot focused on healthcare and well-being.
Hiro and Tadashi live with their aunt, with their parents dying at a young age. Like any good Disney movie, it’s probably not a spoiler to say that Tadashi doesn’t stay in the picture for very long – and as a villainous mystery ensues, Hiro – alongside the wonderful mix of personalities that made up Tadashi’s fellow robotics students – quickly wind up in the world of superheroics.
We’re clearly coloring in the lines in Big Hero 6, but what makes the movie shine is the palette that directors Don Hall and Chris Williams use to shine. From incredible action sequences (a flying scene is equal parts How To Train Your Dragon, Kiki’s Delivery Service and the opening of Futurama), inspired voice work (Damon Wayans Jr. is a delight, as is Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass, and comedian TJ Miller as burn out fanboy Fred), and absolutely beautiful design, as every inch of San Fransokyo shines, from small details like Hiro’s awesome robot clock to the blimps that shine high above the city. I especially love how the movie actually bumps convention at times, too, with science ruling the day, and the most bad-ass character being female (complete with a catchphrase of “Woman Up!”)
The movie’s not-so-secret weapon, however? Baymax.
Voiced by 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit, Baymax is one of the greatest creations in the modern Disney lexicon. Huggable, hilarious, and with a silicon heart of gold, you can’t take your eyes off him. The film’s trailers may have taken the shine off of some of his antics, but Baymax represents some of the best physical comedy ever rendered in CG. The acting of Adsit also somehow brings an indelible warmth to Baymax’s robotic voice, which just adds to the love he clearly forms in the audience. There will be a lot of Baymaxes under Christmas trees this year.
Yes, the movie does eventually fall into the same “rush to the end” trap that all superhero movies do. Yes, you can see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. But when a movie nails a formula so hard, it’s difficult to not enjoy every single minute of it.
More Wreck-It Ralph than Frozen (although Ralph is still the better movie), Big Hero 6 continues the Walt Disney Animation Studio renaissance started with 2010’s Tangled. It’s a fun, exciting movie for animation fans of all ages.
Now, if you don’t mind, I have to figure out which Baymax I’m going to buy off the Internet.
Additional Notes: I saw Big Hero 6 in 2D, so I cannot speak to the film’s 3D quality. With the 3D being rendered natively from the computer generated files, it’s probably pretty good – especially the flying sequences. The film is prefaced by a brilliant short, Feast, which will tug at your heart-strings, particularly if you love dogs. Oh, and stay through the credits…especially if you’re a superhero fan.