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.