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.


Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

You’d be surprised how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.

Moon Knight (2022) (SPOILERS) Now, this is an interesting one. Not because it’s very good – Phase IV MCU? Hah! – but because it presents its angle on the “superhero” ethos in an almost entirely unexpurgated, unsoftened way. Here is a character explicitly formed through the procedures utilised by trauma-based mind control, who has developed alters – of which he has been, and some of which he remains, unaware – and undergone training/employment in the military and private mercenary sectors (common for MKUltra candidates, per Dave McGowan’s Programmed to Kill ). And then, he’s possessed by what he believes to be a god in order to carry out acts of extreme violence. So just the sort of thing that’s good, family, DisneyPlus+ viewing.