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    Nov 5, 2014

    6 Reasons To Fall In Love With Disney's "Big Hero 6"

    The latest Disney movie is more than just the animation giant's first superhero feature.


    1. There's plenty of Pixar to it.


    Big Hero 6, which is directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt), is the product of the ruthlessly calculated mating of two giant brands — Marvel, owners of the comic book superhero team on which the movie's loosely based, and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney's flagship of animated features going back to 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

    But in spirit, it owes just as much to Pixar, the other animation studio that executive producer John Lasseter oversees, and that isn't releasing a film this year.

    Big Hero 6 is a children's film, but it's one in which death is a real presence. It's more emotionally sophisticated, dealing with themes of grief and finding your place in the world that are more grounded than the high-flying adventures they're surrounded by would have you expect. It recalls, at times, Monsters, Inc., as well as Pixar's own superhero movie The Incredibles, and there's a touch of DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon and Brad Bird's The Iron Giant to it as well. It's not on the level of Pixar at its best — its superhero origin story is by the book and does nothing unexpected — but the central relationship between its 14-year-old protagonist Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and the robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) definitely shares the right kind of endearing weirdness and surprising resonance.

    2. It's set in a city that's a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo.


    San Fransokyo is a cleverly conceived and gorgeously realized fantasy metropolis filled with alternate universe versions of familiar San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge (now shaped like torii), Coit Tower, and the Transamerica Pyramid. It's got cable cars as well as elevated trains, Victorian houses, and Japanese signage. It's San Francisco, but it's also denser, taller, and more neon, with koinobori-inspired wind turbines flying high above the city like kites and presumably generating power, a magically mashed-up place.

    3. Its hero, Hiro, is biracial.


    And as far as I can figure, he's Disney's first multiracial main character — he and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) are half-white and half-Japanese, and are both voiced by hapa actors. While the Mouse House has offered up protagonists of color before, like Mulan, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Tiana, Big Hero 6 offers Disney's most diverse slate of characters to date, and its most contemporarily diverse world. It may be Japan-inflected, but its setting is thrillingly and matter-of-factly multiracial, both in terms of the characters and the actors voicing them, including Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., and Génesis Rodríguez.

    4. Baymax is a marvel of cuteness engineering.


    Diversity aside, nifty composite city setting aside, there's Big Hero 6's breakout character. The round, squishy heart, and thing everyone will be talking about after seeing the movie, is Baymax, the robot who accompanies Hiro on his battle against a mysterious masked villain who's stolen the nanobot tech Hiro invented. Baymax has been re-imagined as a medical robot its designer deliberately chose to make out of inflatable vinyl for extra approachability — it's durable and strong, but also like a giant marshmallow that comes with its own first aid kit. Baymax gets leveled up and given some handy armor and additions, but its main concerns are still the health and well-being of Hiro and his friends.

    Baymax is the result of some genius-level adorable character design, waddling away from danger ("I am not fast," it unnecessarily notes), inflating itself like an air mattress, fixing leaks with tape, and attempting to fist-bump, which it accompanies with a sound that's never not funny. As voiced by Adsit, Baymax is warmly but mechanically even-keeled in everything, but it's the physical comedy that comes from how Baymax moves and reacts to things that makes the character so instantly endearing.

    5. Its characters are unabashed nerds.


    They're still a very photogenic bunch, but the Big Hero 6 team is comprised of robotics and engineering students enrolled at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology — and Hiro is a 14-year-old prodigy who starts off the film hustling his way around underground robot fighting matches. They're a whole team of Peter Parkers, self-described nerds who may not make for memorable superheroes (aside from Baymax), but whose powers are nicely matched to the projects they work on at the lab.

    6. It's a story about mourning and moving on.


    Even as Big Hero 6 hits the usual beats in its superhero arc, it spins out a parallel narrative about Hiro's process of mourning a major personal loss and how he's dealing or not dealing with his grief. He's a boy genius, but he's also a moody teenager. He's not always articulate about how he feels, and his anger and sadness sometime bubble out in ways that lead him astray.

    Baymax is the axis on which Hiro's personal journey and the whole fight with the masked baddie turn — the whole reason he helps out is because he believes it will help heal Hiro's troubled emotional state. It all comes together in an ending more tearjerking than you'd think possible for a mechanical balloon cyborg whose only facial expression is blinking. Superheroes may come and go, but kids and their lovable non-human sidekicks are forever.

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