“Big Hero 6” goes big on visuals, laughs and sidekicks

by Andrew Kingsley | 2/22/15 6:31pm

Call Disney what you want, but one thing they’ve always mastered is the sidekick. From chameleon Pascal in “Tangled” (2010) to snowman Olaf in “Frozen” (2013), their anthropomorphic pals are experts in comic relief. Like Shakespearean fools, they package comedy and wisdom together into a digestible pill for whenever the protagonist needs that little dose of reality. Yet, you will never see one of them up for the Oscar for best supporting actor. It is a shame, because Baymax, the cuddly, awkward Michelin Man doppelganger in “Big Hero 6” (2014) rivals J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” (2014), this year’s winner in the best supporting actor category.

Before the film even starts, we are treated to Disney’s Oscar-winning animated short film “Feast” (2014). The short is about the delicacies an adorable Boston terrier devours, which demarcate his relationship with his owner. Tight, stunning and without dialogue, “Feast” is a scrumptious appetizer to the feature film and worth the Nugget’s seven dollar snack pack alone.

“Big Hero 6” is set somewhere in the near future in San Fransokyo, a hybrid utopia of the best of East and West, where the Golden Gate bridge meets pagodas and the Transamerica Pyramid meets a traditional Japanese temple. Marvel and Disney combine their manpower to create a lush, kaleidoscopic urban paradise. The film’s titular character Hiro Hamada, a precociously inventive teenager who hustles underground robot sumo competitions, must find out who killed his older brother, Tadashi. Joining Stephen Hawking from “The Theory of Everything” (2014) and Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” (2014), Hiro makes 2014 the year of geniuses in cinema, as he attends San Fransokyo Institute of Technology at the old age of 14. Before he dies in a suspicious explosion, Tadashi had invented Baymax, a shuffling, bumbling nurse robot who acts like Pixar’s WALL-E hiding inside a marshmallow. Having no mother or father since he was an infant, and now without a brother, Hiro finds a mix of all three in Baymax.

Banking off the warm, snuggly whiteness of Olaf, Baymax stumbles through the illogical human world, misreading fist bumps for punches and the expression “sick!” as meaning literally diseased. As robots grow more and more human-like, how many more years will the clumsy robot have in Hollywood? A lover of hugs, prone to deflating-like flatulence and stumbling and slurring his words like a somewhat drunken sailor when on low battery, Baymax is the type of imaginary friend all parents wish their kids had — an airbag, first aid kit, pet, jokester and sibling all rolled into one. Lacking a mouth or expressive eyes, Baymax is still moving and evocative, a testament to Disney’s creativity and craft.

Joining Hiro’s hero team are his friends from college, an adorkable band of misfit engineers whose superpowers are their science projects. It’s “The Incredibles”(2004) — John Lasseter was actually the executive producer for both these films — a la Thayer School of Engineering, with the kids up against a masked villain who stole Hiro’s microrobot invention to make a Doc Ock-esque monster of himself. If cinema has taught us anything, it’s that kids can and will defeat unimaginative, crusty adults no matter what.

Since the film focuses so much attention on the relationships between Baymax, Hiro and his friends, the villain plot feels anemic and rushed. There’s a nice twist thrown in regarding the villain’s identity, but he is still an afterthought.

When you’ve got a robot as brandable and funny as Baymax, however, the antagonists will be an afterthought to the audience anyway, so why distract us too much? A colorful and witty Disney offering, “Big Hero 6” ironically moralizes about “looking at things from a new perspective,” even though it rehashes the best of “Frozen” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But standing on the shoulders of giants is always a good move in cinema, so it’s worth a rent from the Jones Media Center or a night in on Netflix.

Rating: 9/10

“Big Hero 6” is winner of Best Animated Feature Film and “Feast” is winner of Best Short Film, Animated.