at the movies: big hero 6

Had a great time today at my free private showing of the new (and rather brilliant) animated superhero flick Big Hero 6.  Private, because there didn’t happen to be anyone else who wanted to see a kids’ movie at quarter to one on a Friday afternoon except me and my usual moviegoing companion, and free because the projector failed spectacularly during the previews.  “Number eight?”  said the manager.  “It does that.” And waiting six or seven minutes while they rebooted the system earned us a couple of guest passes to another show.  Not that the wait was that big a deal.

Is Big Hero 6 a kids’ movie?  Well, it’s a fairly lighthearted superhero story with a youthful but not juvenile cast (the hero is a 14 year old genius,; the other members of the team are his college-age classmates and a robot), and it’s animated, which to some people means it has to be intended primarily for children. But it’s really an all ages entertainment, of particular interest to anyone who is interested in superheroes (it’s full of superhero meta) or in worldbuilding.

Because the world is the real star here.  Big Hero 6 is set in the most impeccably designed and rendered alternate San Francisco: a spirited, optimistic, brightly colored Northern California-Blade Runner of a San Francisco, one that is mixed delightfully with a comic book Japan.   The characters (half manga, half modern Disney-Pixar) live there so believably that the illusion of reality is almost perfect, avoiding the uncanny valley by being just cartoonish enough.  It’s a beautiful movie to look at in the highest sense of the word beautiful.

The plot is a plot, thin but serviceable, plenty good enough to justify a visit to the setting.  The characters are better, appealing enough to make you care about the plot and the standard lessons of love, loyalty, hard work, and standing up for your beliefs.  The boy protagonist and the robot clearly received most of the effort, and the robot is is truly  remarkable.  His design is genuinely creative and his personality flows from it in a delightful organic way.  His name is Baymax, and you believe in him.  The rest of the characters are less well defined but skillfully outlined, and the superhero stuff is fresh and even enlightening.  Pay particular attention to Fred and Honey.  All the tropes of the modern superhero movie are here too, down to the standard advice to sit tight through the credits.  (And you should go early, too.)

I went to see this movie primarily to see the world in which it is set, but ended up watching it, and enjoying it, as a film.  Big Hero 6 was a very pleasant surprise, and let’s hope it’s a sign that this year’s big holiday flicks are going to be good ones.  We’ll be going to the movies at least once more before the year ends.freepasses-crop-blog

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5 Responses to at the movies: big hero 6

  1. Yay! Glad you got to see the excellent BIG HERO SIX.

    Trivia: the filmmakers used “San Fransokyo” as a placeholder name for their mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo. However, they could not think of a better name for their fictional city, so they stuck with “San Fransokyo.” :^D

    They made up their own city because they were loosely adapting a Marvel property. They did not want their heroes to run into Spider-Man or the X-Men, who hang out in “real” cities like New York and Tokyo. ;^)

  2. Pam Bliss says:

    That’s actually sort of disappointing. Because that city is a **masterpiece** and it suggests a wonderfully exciting alternate history. I’ve seen quite a few Chinese “Golden Cities” where China settles the west coast of North America and there is a great Anglo Chinese city where San Francisco is in our world. I am perfectly willing to imagine one that is more Japanese. But it darn well deserves its own name and a historical background to explain it, even if the history doesn’t come into the story we see here.

    Still, a great movie. Love the cat, by the way.

  3. Mochi! Mochi the cat was darling. ^_^

    I trust that the filmmakers and designers came up with a historical background for San Fransokyo, but I do not know if the background will be explored in later BIG HERO SIX films or TV show spinoffs. The filmmakers did say they pulled ideas from real life and real concepts whenever and wherever they could (ex: airborne wind turbines). They also had John Lasseter to please when it came to the authenticity of the “San Francisco” side of San Fransokyo, since John Lasseter had spent some time there. They worked hard to make the city “feel” right, even though they made it up.

    Another influence on the film was all the research they did in robot labs around the world. The filmmakers wanted Baymax to look like no other robot that has appeared in film. In one lab (Carnegie?), they saw an inflatable robot arm, and this inspired them to pursue an inflatable robot design.

    One of the directors said that Baymax’ face was inspired by two bells. He stood under two giant bells on one of the research trips to Japan — two bells with a rope or rod between them — and he felt “so peaceful” under those bells. He wanted a sense of that peace to emanate from the nurse robot. He took a photo, handed it to a character designer, and asked the designer to find a way to work that image into Baymax’ design. The designer came up with the wonderful look of Baymax’ face.

    I think this film will reward multiple viewings. :^D

  4. Pam Bliss says:

    I sure agree with that. I will be buying the DVD of this one. As for the history, I just want it to be there, perhaps to inform some small details. I honestly don’t know how sequels to this will go– this movie is such a pure little bubble. But I guess I need to trust the writers to come up with another good story about these people.

    Baymax’s design is wonderful. How his face is so expressive with such minimal features is amazing to me, and yes, something I will want to study. And painting the wind turbines up as koinobori was a brilliant evocation of the setting.

  5. Pingback: new year’s eve post | a cartoonist in Kekionga

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