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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Big Hero 6 movie review: how to train your robot

Big Hero 6 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Joyous and exhilarating. A fresh and funny animated adventure that subverts genre clichés at every turn.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Superhero origin stories are ubiquitous in our comic-book-happy pop culture, but none of them has been as sheerly, simply delightful as Big Hero 6… maybe because it barely feels like an origin story at all. Oh, all the familiar elements are here, in this gorgeously animated Disney flick: a young genius tormented by grief; high-tech gadgets; a complex villain; funny sidekicks. But the movie is so utterly unself-conscious that even the moments of self-referential humor — the kind that are inevitable when one of the superteam is a big ol’ geek who has been actively trying to reinvent himself as a comic-book character — play like something we’ve never seen before. (You’d probably never guess that this is based on characters from the Marvel universe if you weren’t already aware of that fact.)

Fourteen-year-old Hiro (the voice of Ryan Potter) is a robotics whiz who wants to join his older brother Tadashi’s (the voice of Daniel Henney: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) university “nerd lab.” Here, Tadashi’s friends (the voices of T.J. Miller [Transformers: Age of Extinction, How to Train Your Dragon 2], Jamie Chung [Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Hangover Part III], Damon Wayans Jr. [The Other Guys, Marmaduke], and Genesis Rodriguez [Identity Thief, The Last Stand]) are (mostly) all working on neat-o projects out of science fiction (or comic books), and Tadashi himself is helping to “push the boundaries of robotics” with his cuddly, huggable paramedic robot Baymax (the voice of Scott Adsit: We’re the Millers, The Informant!). We’ve seen nonthreatening robots onscreen before, but nothing as trope-busting as Baymax.

Indeed, Big Hero 6 subverts genre clichés at every turn as Hiro and his new friends — including the nonhuman one — find themselves driven by circumstances to some actions that look suspiciously superheroic. The movie actually faces head on the subject of death and despair when the story takes a dark turn; it’s rare for a movie ostensibly aimed at children to tackle the matter so directly (and heartbreakingly) as this one does. The movie confronts Hiro’s childishly rageful sense of morality — and, by extension, that of comic books in the stereotype, if not always in reality — and guides him to a more nuanced attitude. And 6 smashes the wall of white-dude-dom superhero movies have become with its gang of color that — wonder of wonders! — includes two women among its ranks. That’s partly a result of setting its tale in the parallel West Coast city of San Fransokyo, a lushly neo-futuristic urban playground that I would love to wander around and explore.

Fresh, funny, and full of thrilling SFnal ideas and a lot of big-hearted warmth, Big Hero 6 is joyous and exhilarating, a true original.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Big Hero 6 for its representation of girls and women.

Oscars Best Animated Feature 2014

previous Best Animated Feature:
2013: Frozen
next Best Animated Feature:
2015: Inside Out

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Animated Features

green light 4.5 stars

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Big Hero 6 (2014) | directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams
US/Can release: Nov 07 2014
UK/Ire release: Jan 30 2015

MPAA: rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements
BBFC: rated PG (mild threat, scary scenes)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Yay!

    Did you think the 3D was anything special, or am I safe watching in 2D?

  • Danielm80

    The 3D is extremely unspecial, although there are a few nice Kirby-esque shots toward the end.

  • The 3D isn’t distracting or badly done, but you’ll have much the same experience without it. Save the money.

  • The movie actually does stick to the conventional tropes of super hero origin stories, but what it does do is avoid the now-predictable “plot twists” that “modern” superhero movies attempt (I’d say more, but it revolves around the “loss” of a character that makes it a bit of a SPOILER). It was a smart move on the film-makers part to have the villain avoid monologuing at the drop of a hat until the absolute end, and in fact Youkai’s silent ruthlessness in attacking the heroes makes him a genuine scary threat.

    What’s refreshing about the movie is that it promotes scientific innovation, the awe of discovery, the thrill of being inventive (most other movies either look at science as a threat or a nuisance). It’s also a genuinely affecting movie about loss and grief, turning on great moral questions that other comic movies (other movies period) rarely delve into.

    To me, it’s Superhero Movies 101. This is an excellent geeky introduction to the genre when your kids are growing up (Big Hero 6, Superman the Movie, Incredibles, Avengers, Unbreakable).

  • promotes scientific innovation, the awe of discovery, the thrill of being inventive

    Which is another way it’s like *How to Train Your Dragon.* :-)

  • Thanks, MaryAnn and Danielm80.

  • But with superheroes!!!

  • Tonio Kruger

    And robots!

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