Dirs: Don Hall, Chris Williams. US. 2014. 96mins
Corporate relatives Disney and Marvel try for some creative synergy in Big Hero 6, an animated comedy-adventure that cannily combines the emotion, humour and – courtesy of a cuddly inflatable robot – cuteness expected from Disney with a heavy dose of Marvel-style superhero action. The result is a solidly entertaining sci-fi-infused, anime-influenced tale that should win over a sizeable boy-skewing family audience even if it doesn’t captivate to the same extent as last year’s girl-skewing Disney Animation Studios smash Frozen.
The pace accelerates and the film becomes more action-oriented, with sequences that resemble – thanks to photo-realistic backgrounds created with a new Disney-designed rendering tool – scenes from recent live-action Marvel movies.
A US opening on November 7 (in 3D and 2D, the latter being the version screened for review) will pit the film against sci-fi heavyweight Interstellar and could lead to a domestic take closer to the $189m notched by Disney’s 2012 release Wreck-It Ralph than the $401m amassed by Frozen.
A premiere at this week’s Tokyo International Film Festival should set up a lucrative international run (Wreck-It Ralph grabbed $282m outside the US and Canada, and Frozen $873m), with especially strong results coming from Asian markets.
Inspired by a late-nineties run of Marvel comic books and written by the team behind Monsters, Inc, the film is set in the near-future city of San Fransokyo, where orphaned teen Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter from Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas) lives with science student older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney, from X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the boys’ aunt (Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph).
When Tadeshi is killed in an accident, Hiro finds some comfort with Baymax, a friendly healthcare robot (with a soothing voice supplied by Scott Adsit, from TV’s 30 Rock) that Tadeshi had been developing. And when Hiro, a budding scientist himself, encounters a mysterious villain with designs on the technology developed by his brother’s university, he turns Baymax and four of Tadashi’s friends into the Big Hero 6, a band of high-tech heroes.
With Don Hall (Disney’s 2011 Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt) directing, the film takes time early on to plug the joys of science education and touch on the subjects of grief and adolescence. The issues are explored through Hiro’s sometimes funny, sometimes touching relationship with Baymax.
Later, the pace accelerates and the film becomes more action-oriented, with sequences that resemble – thanks to photo-realistic backgrounds created with a new Disney-designed rendering tool – scenes from recent live-action Marvel movies.
Though there aren’t many explicit pop culture references, there are echoes of earlier cartoons and movies – from Scooby-Doo to ET to Marvel’s The Avengers – that should be pleasantly familiar for adults and kids. Baymax – whose image dominates the film’s early ad campaign but who actually takes a less prominent role as the story goes on – recalls everything from the Michelin Man to Raymond Briggs’ Snowman to Star Wars’ C3PO, ending up as a tubby version of Marvel’s Iron Man.
The film’s ending suggests that Disney and Marvel already have sequels in mind, raising the possibility of an animated franchise to parallel the live-action Marvel Universe.
Production companies: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Worldwide distribution: Walt Disney
Producer: Roy Conli
Executive producer: John Lasseter
Screenplay: Robert L Baird & Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts
Music: Henry Jackman
Main cast (voice): Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T J Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph