Is it possible to love and be angry at a piece of art at the same time? These are the feelings that are vying for dominance after seeing Disney’s first foray into the Marvel archives: Big Hero 6.
My daughter and I saw it in 3-D in a theater where every seat was taken by people of color. Indian, Arabs, AAPI folks, African-Americans… I’ll type it again: In the sold out theater, every person there was a person of color. It was an astonishing sight and feeling. So much of the pre-film chatter were parents talking about “feeling comfortable” bringing their kids to see a film where the heroes “finally look, well, something like them.” This was the exact same reason that I brought my daughter… and the film looked cool as hell. And it was.
BH6 is an experience. It rises above your typical SF/Super Hero film and is a genuine work of art. The action takes place in the San Francisco/Tokyo hybrid megalopolis of San Fransokyo and it is stellar. It has just the right mix of San Francisco architecture and high-end Japanese robo-sheen to make the city feel lived in. I’m not sure how this will play outside of the San Francisco Bay Area (where we live) but the city made the both of us long for this amalgamation. “Daddy? How can we live there?”
The character designs were unique and each character had a very distinct look and character that made them individuals — even their fighting styles were individualized. It was such a pleasure to watch actual characters, and not just animated caricatures.
I was concerned that the film would veer off into Boom! Kapow! Splat! territory but there is so much heart in this film that the action set pieces were injected with much more jeopardy because you felt for this nascent super team. While the group did teeter toward central teenager/young adult casting, the filmmakers did a good job of anchoring them in personalities that were believable, given then context. Except for two of the characters. More on this later.
In brief, Hiro Hamada (voiced with charm and vulnerability by Ryan Potter) a young robotics wiz is engaged in illegal robot fighting, while his brother Tadashi Hamada (a totally convincing portrayal by Daniel Henney) laments that his little brother doesn’t use his “big brain” for higher and nobler pursuits. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a tragedy where Baymax (a wonderful robotic creation that is going to sell so many toys — voiced by the superb Scott Adsit) is introduced as a surrogate older brother for Hiro. This tragedy and the discovery of the villain using Hiro’s stolen tech spur Hiro to form a team to avenge his brother and to apprehend the (slightly unexpected) villain.
The team is comprised of Tadashi’s classmates from the robotics program at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. There is the hotshot Go-Go (Jamie Chung in a sassy enough performance), Honey-Lemon (Génesis Rodrîguez, the genius mother hen). And then there are the last two. These two bothered me but for entirely different reasons.
Fred (T.J. Miller on an overdose of Casey Kasem’s Shaggy) doesn’t attend the university, but is a university mascot. He gets so many lines, at times; I thought that he would become the new protagonist. He redeems himself through the pure joy expressed when he is in his hero identity.
Among the more athletic companions, Wasabi is hulking lumbering and takes up quite a bit of space. While everyone is enjoying being the hero identities Hiro created for them, Wasabi is overly cautious to the point of cowardice — the only character to act borderline anti-heroically and have most of the jokes landing on him. Did I even have to mention that he is the lone African-American character? Voiced by Damon Wayan’s Jr., Wasabi is so much the other. He is gigantic, while the others are small. He is cautious, while the others are swashbuckling… there is a very thrilling car chase where he is basically rendered a eunuch, by Go-Go, in the middle of some very intense action. It was so blatant and bothersome that I almost wanted to leave. I thought to myself, “This is Disney. They don’t know how to characterize black folks in any type of decent way” and I stayed. Holding the reality that this is how black folks are done, repeatedly, in film.
The villain’s motivation, while honorable, seemed a little tacked on, but when he is using Hiro’s tech, he is a sight to behold. There were a few kids that were having a difficult time because in 3-D, he was mad scary. This motivation involves the villain’s daughter, faulty teleportation technology, and the most beautifully rendered wormhole I’ve ever seen depicted on screen. When we entered, you could hear the entire audience gasp.
Please, please stay for the after credits sequence. Despite it involving Fred, it is classic. So very funny.
Sorry for the spotty review, but I do not want to spoil anything for potential viewers.
Will I see it again? Maybe. My wife wants to see it, and my daughter wants to see it again. And again.
Sigh… thus is the experience of an AfroGeek.