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

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.