Skip to main content

Flying makes me a better healthcare companion.

Big Hero 6
(2014)

(SPOILERS) Disney’s Manga/Anime-styled, Marvel-adapted animation was one of the biggest hits of 2014, and it’s reasonable to have fairly high expectations of Mouse House animated fare, particularly since John Lasseter assumed oversight (when he’s not pumping out Cars sequels, that is). But Big Hero 6 is merely adequate. Stylistically it’s different, but not different enough, while the story is surprisingly dead-set, lacking the wit and fun of Pixar’s The Incredibles. What it does have is an adorable robot. But that’s requiring a lot of robot to go a long way.


Don Hall and Chris Williams don’t have the most illustrious animation CVs, although Williams has a story credit on the (for Disney) leftfield Emperor’s New Groove. He co-directed the decent but unremarkable Bolt (which pretty much sums up Big Hero 6), while Hall delivered the most recent Disney the Pooh (whatever the content of stories, they’re still cursed with that wretched non-A A Milne cutesy animation).


Inspired by the Marvel comic of the same name (the details are liberally changed), this is an origins move in which a bunch of science geeks (or nerds as they are defined here) transform themselves into superheroes with the aid of technology (the most miraculous aspect is that they are blessed with boundless budget and resources, and presumably an extraordinarily effective 3D printer).  The villain is also science geek, just an older one (even though this isn’t part of the official Marvel roster, it retains the classic Marvel failing of matching its heroes against similarly capable villains, as George R R Martin recently opined).


Some of the ideas here are quite neat; the Japanese/American future city of San Fransokyo is integrated far more subtly than 90% of the exposition clumsily introducing the characters and their situations (it highlights how Pixar have honed this sort of thing so finely, when it’s done as clunkily as this; “They died when I was three, remember” says Hiro of his dead parents). Generally the background suggests a future world where on the one part resources aren’t a problem (one can enrol in university at the drop of a hat, and a kid living with his café-owing aunt has the aforementioned unlimited resources) while on the other there’s an underworld where robot fighting for money is illegal. It’s a more interesting environment than anything Hall and Williams subsequently follow through with.


The only surprise character-wise is that they introduce Hiro’s brother Tadashi, attending the robotics class at the local university, only to kill him off and provide Hiro some motivation.  It isn’t a surprise in the Disney tradition (see Bambi, The Lion King etc.) but in the Marvel universe of dying and never staying dead it’s actually permitted a degree resonance (of course, every other character, including the villain’s daughter and loveable huggable robot Baymax, is subject to resurrection).


Tadashi’s death fuels Hiro’s quest for revenge against the rather dull bad guy (James Cromwell as Professor Callahan) in a rather lame Kabuki mask who caused the fireball that killed his brother. What motivates the Professor? Why, only that he too wants revenge against Krei Tech, and more specifically Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) for losing his daughter in a teleportation experiment that went wrong. Do you see, kids? It’s a moral lesson in not being ruled by your darker emotions. The problem is, there’s no modulation here, and it comes across as patronising, underestimating the target audience’s ability to digest such ideas.


The motley assortment of science geek pals of Hiro are unmemorable cardboard cut-out types; the tough athletic tomboy (GoGo), the whacky dipstick (Honey Lemon), the stoner dude (Fred) and the scaredy cat Mr Normal (Wasabi). There’s no real journey for them to become heroes; it’s a quick montage and an initial setback (“We can’t go against that guy. We’re nerds”) and they’re there. If this is a rallying cry to nerds everywhere, well, it’s a long-since thoroughly mined seam. They’re all a bit too hyper and irritating, like they’ve consumed too many E numbers. The worst offender is Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).


Science geeks nerds as heroes might have be seen as a rallying cry encouraging the adults of tomorrow to enrol in chemistry and physics classes, except the science here is a magic wand waving as it comes. It’s also convenient. Hiro invents the entire tech used by the villain, yet as the creator seems to have no means of taking back control of his inventions. The fast-paced approach of animations means this is at least not bloated, but this also makes its attempts at advancing the plot and providing emotional content rudimentary or one-note.


That said, Baymax is a deceptively simple but superb piece of design. A Staypuft/Michelin inflatable medical robot designed by Tadashi, Hiro imbues him with superhero skills. His medical related lines and diagnoses are, courtesy of Scott Adsit, consistently the highpoint of the picture, from his quest for diagnoses (“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?”) to his slurred drunk act when his battery is running low (treating the family cat as a “hairy baby”) It’s easy to see on that basis why this became such a big hit; he’ll go down in the pantheon with Wall-E and R2D2.


Big Hero 6 is fine enough. It’s pleasant, frenetic, and wholly run-of-the-mill, with comedy that one-sidedly springs from its most appealing character. It’s mystifying that this one scored Best Animated Picture Oscar over the laudable How to Train Your Dragon 2, a movie that actually managed the whole “loss of a loved one/revenge” character arc with a sense of depth and refinement.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c