Big Hero 6 (2014)
Big Hero 6 is a movie about loss and coming to terms with a bereavement. You'd think that Disney would run a mile from such a difficult subject, especially when you consider their core demographic, yet the subject is handled intelligently and sensitivity. There is a genuine sense of moral rectitude and conviction running throughout the story. It is a refreshing change to see a superhero driven plot that actually has a positive message as well as the requisite action scenes. Through years of accumulated experience Disney also ensure that the underlying themes are presented in a engaging and enjoyable manner. Big Hero 6 has a lot of laughs during its hundred minute plus running time.
The story centres around electronic genius Hiro, who is suffering from depression after his brother is killed in a fire. When he inherits his brother's robotic project, Baymax, a "non-threatening" healthcare robot, he embarks on a journey to discover the truth about his death. After assembling his friends and "upgrading them" along with Baymax into a formidable fighting force, Hiro soon discovers that all is not a straightforward as it may seem and that in pursuing his own personal vengeance he is in fact, doing the opposite of what his brother would have wanted.
At the centre of Big Hero 6, is the character Baymax; the inflatable personal healthcare robot. With a minimum amount of dialogue voice actor Scott Adsitt brings him too life and embellishes him with some wonderful verbal idiosyncrasies. The simple design of Baymax is also an asset and the character is at his best when outside of his armour. Once again, we see the perennial theme of humans learning the nature of their own condition from a non-human source. Due to the emotional depth of the screenplay and the honesty of the performances, the message works and is genuinely moving. It also dovetails nicely into the story arc and set pieces.
There is a beautiful aesthetic to the city of San Fransokyo and I cannot remember the last time a saw a animated movie with such a fascinating production design. Several times whilst watching I found myself pausing the playback so I could examine the subtleties of the environment. The use of lighting is outstanding and it is clear where the $165 million production cost went. The blending of US and Japanese culture makes for a very striking visual landscape as many familiar landmarks and iconic buildings are given an inventive cross cultural makeover.
The more critical viewer may pick up on a few of the inherent weaknesses of Big Hero 6. Some of the supporting characters are not a well-developed as the lead. The central villain, although motivated by a specific plot device, still seems a little too arbitrary. But I can forgive these minor points as the story really is about Baymax, Hiro and their interdependency. Therein lies the movies strongest asset. Curiously I saw Big Hero 6 in the same week that I say Ex Machina, upon their release in 2014. The latter aslo deals with the issue of humans and AI coming to terms with each other. Although the two movies are radically different in tone and are pursuing different audiences, there are some very similar themes.