Nov 7
"Visually, the film is a treat, as the animators have combined elements of Japanese anime with Hollywood CGI-style animation." (Walt Disney Pictures)

“Visually, the film is a treat, as the animators have combined elements of Japanese anime with Hollywood CGI-style animation.” (Walt Disney Pictures)

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a master’s program at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association of New York since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper for FC Japan, a New York City-based soccer team.

When the Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, it became inevitable that the superheroes in the comic book canon would find themselves headlining their own Disney movies. That notion came to fruition in 2012 when Disney released Marvel’s The Avengers, followed by the Thor, Iron Man and Captain America sequels. The lesser-known comic book superheroes collectively known as the Guardians of the Galaxy made their debut in 2014 and grossed an astounding $765 million worldwide.

Coming on the heels of that release is the latest Disney-Marvel collaboration, Big Hero 6—the first to be produced by its animation division. Unlike the other films, Big Hero 6 is aimed at the family audience so that it can entertain young children as well as teenagers and adults. It shares more in common with another Disney subsidiary named Pixar than its Marvel brethren. While it does not attain the high standards set by Pixar in such films as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles (let’s face it—nothing does), it is an entertaining and fun movie.

Presumably the characters in Big Hero 6 are not well known outside the realm of comic book fandom—they don’t have the name recognition of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, etc. But the absence of brand recognition comes with a pair of trump cards: low preconceived expectations and the element of surprise. Many in the audience will be introduced to the characters and world of Big Hero 6 for the first time—and it is a remarkably innovative world.

The action takes place entirely within the city of San Fransokyo, which looks exactly like a hybrid of the two eponymous cities. Victorian-style row houses neighbor neon Shibuya-esque crossings, lanterns grace street cars and the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers resemble torii gates. Within this creative metropolis, the movie follows the maturation of 14-year old robotics wunderkind Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter). His companion for much of the film is Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable healthcare robot (imagine a futuristic Michelin Man with the personality of WALL-E) invented by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Heddey).

Hiro has invented a new technology of miniscule robots called “microbots” that can be controlled telepathically. The technology is stolen by a mysterious villain named Yokai (James Cromwell), who hides behind an oni (demon) kabukimask, and has sinister plans for the city. In order to fight the microbot-fueled power of Yokai, Hiro designs a series of superpower-enhanced equipment and suits for his nerdy, tech-geek friends. This ragtag group—GoGo Tamago (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Fredzilla (T.J. Miller)—join Hiro and Baymax to become the “Big Hero 6.”

The plot unfolds like a suspenseful mystery as the team sets out to unmask Yokai and uncover his evil plot. There is also a clever twist in the storyline right before the climactic finale. The real strength in the film, however, is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax. Tadashi is killed in a fire early in the film (he may or may not have been murdered by Yokai) and Baymax becomes a surrogate big brother to him.

Since he was built and programmed by Tadashi, he embodies the essence of his compassionate soul, teaching the young Hiro about empathy, pacifism and the futility of revenge and power of forgiveness. Hiro travels a deeply affecting character arc from obnoxious brat to grieving adolescent to a mature young adult, all without physically aging. This strand also poses some interesting questions about the nature of artificial intelligence—can AI extend into the realm of emotional intelligence beyond the calculus of rational algorithms?

Unfortunately, the four additional superheroes lack this depth of personality and are not sufficiently interesting in either their comic relief efforts or action sequences. Even in terms of superpowers, they seem more like generic versions of comic book characters seen elsewhere. But this will not detract from enjoyment of the film as its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. Visually, the film is a treat, as the animators have combined elements of Japanese anime with Hollywood CGI-style animation. Interestingly, it’s nearly impossible to discern either a Disney or Marvel aesthetic influence on the film. Big Hero 6 premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival last month and will no doubt please audiences around the world among different cultures. Baymax continually asks, “Are you satisfied?” (He is, after all, a caring robot.) The audience’s response will no doubt be a resounding “Yes.”

Big Hero 6 opens today in North America. For theaters and showtimes, visit

For more JQ film reviews, click here.

2 comments so far...

  • tvmuse Said on November 19th, 2014 at 3:57 am:

    Dull, derivative and dumbfoundingly violent.

  • megasharehd Said on November 19th, 2014 at 4:00 am:

    A wildly entertaining animated adventure that successfully adapts the Marvel tradition to animation.

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