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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.