Disney Goes Full Marvel!
DIRECTED BY DON HALL, CHRIS WILLIAMS/2014
Disney’s Big Hero 6, a computer-rendered whirlwind of futuristic action, color, technology, and pop, is a comic book adventure that is unlike anything the animation studio has done before. It flies, it zips, it snaps with adolescent energy, and just enough hard drama (a few deaths) to appropriately fuel the whiz-bam fire. The story beats may be broadly familiar, but Big Hero 6, Disney’s first cinematic in-house utilization of a Marvel property, marks a gleaming new moment. The animation is spectacularly fresh, tinged with manga and not wasting its obligatory 3D component.
By adding the emerging Marvel Entertainment empire to their own, Disney proved and actualized a very visible interest in the semi-neglected young boy audience. Unlike young girls, boys of today are much less likely to go for retooled versions of age-old fairy tales. And Disney, in its infinite demographic-researched wisdom, realizes frankly that comic book properties alone won’t cut it. Video games, the true male-centric cultural monolith, must also factor in.
Looking at the past several years of Disney’s high-profile “animated classics” output (yes, they’re all deemed “classics” out of the gate), an obvious gender appealing ping-ponging is evident. In a heretofore unprecedented way, things have gone girl/boy/girl/boy, i.e., Tangled/Wreck-It Ralph/Frozen/Big Hero 6. (With the Polynesian princess tale Moana up next.) All are of course designed for across the board appeal to all young audience members, while also fulfilling the expected moral and “inspirational” notions of their parents. (“Hey, moms! Fed up with the old-school Disney princess image waylaying your daughter into ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ malaise? Disney hears you!! Check out The Princess and the Frog for an empowered princess who isn’t interested in being a princess at all! Tiana just wants to run her own restaurant, and she does! Girl power!!”) To deny the clear fundamental gender appeals of the individual films would be misguided, and even silly.
The story beats may be broadly familiar, but “Big Hero 6″, Disney’s first cinematic in-house utilization of a Marvel property, marks a gleaming new moment.
While less creatively fresh than the highly video game-based Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 springs from the pages of a little-known Marvel comics series, a Big first for Disney. Although this near-future tale of an adolescent robotics genius comes from the printed page, it, perhaps more-so than Wreck-It Ralph, manifests a modern gaming appeal. (Wreck-It Ralph skewed arcade game history the way Cinderella and The Little Mermaid skewed famous fairy tales. Big Hero 6, by contrast, blasts forward. Rare for Disney.)
If there’s a hidden misstep in Big Hero 6, its that the quip-happy thrill-seekers of the film in no way resemble the introverted legion of Minecraft-obsessed computer gaming kids its playing to. But it nails it in the world-building department. The neon-fused future city of San Fransokyo – yes, a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo – is a gleaming, fully-formed kid-friendly Blade Runner world, wind-powered and full of hints of tech and society we can’t understand at a glance. Hero (voiced by Ryan Potter), the spunky boy genius protagonist, builds amazing “microbots”, then befriends a lumbering inflatable medical robot called Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), and ultimately suits up in cool battle armor and soars against evil. (to be precise, he and his colorful pack of smarty-pals must go against a mysterious and scary kabuki masked super-villain.)
There are a lot of things right about “Big Hero 6″, even in its motor-mouthed zip-zap.
The story, as gusied up as it is with cool flash, offers little freshness until maybe the two-thirds point. Until then, the familiar character motivational beats run in keeping with every super hero origin story ever, right down to the main character’s dead parents. But eventually, after coasting acceptably enough for most of the film, when the twists and reveals start rolling in, Big Hero 6 finds its true fundamental footing – and not a moment too soon. The characters (six of ‘em) remain too yakky and quippy, and Hero’s story-driven brush with the inner-darkness of anger and thirst for revenge is definitely quick (in contemporary kids-movie fashion, it successfully sidesteps the naming of Hero’s in-the-moment intentions as the want to kill the bad guy). But in the end, this being Disney, righteousness prevails. The difference is that this time, it is in what could be seen as a Christ-like (certainly selflessly moral) way, a particular manner that films typically do not present often.
Big Hero 6, while not quite on the overall level of Wreck-It Ralph, surpasses Bolt and Atlantis in the Disney animated adventure vain. Its mouse-house wish-fulfillment factor piles high when it comes to showcasing would-be introverted adolescent techies as high-flying super-quipsters. And while I find a small discomfort in the message that an introverted personality is something that one should aspire to “transcended”, that notion will have to wait for a different kids movie. There are a lot of things right about Big Hero 6, even in its motor-mouthed zip-zap. My kids, two boys and one girl ranging from ages four to nine, all loved the film, and I dug it as well. It’s likely a mere matter of time before Big Hero 7 hits us in the face!
(Oh, and this being Marvel (sort of), be sure to stay through the closing credits!)