If you were trying to turn a kid onto action films for life, you could do a lot worse than starting him or her off with Big Hero 6. So fundamentally familiar that its alternate title might as well be My First Marvel Superhero Movie, it does just about everything you'd expect from an animated adventure designed for families: It's big and bright and funny and friendly and cute and exciting, and at the end it makes you cry. The whole thing is perfectly pleasant and nothing new under the sun; once your kid gets a taste, he'll be ready for the harder stuff.
The movie represents a perfect mixture of the two companies responsible for it. Based on a Marvel comic book and released through Disney, Big Hero 6 is set in the not-too-distant future city of San Fransokyo, a vivid hybrid of, well, you know, where Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a rascally teen genius too busy making robots for underground bot-fighting tournaments to focus on his future. But once Hiro gets a taste of the work his beloved older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is doing at a robotics university, he's desperate to enroll, which he does by submitting an idea for microbots that can be remotely controlled and manipulated to form different objects. (He's like a mini-Magneto without the telekinesis.) But when the idea is stolen by a mysterious masked villain—and his brother is killed in a fire during the theft—Hiro must become an unlikely hero.
How he does that is through the help of Big Hero 6's MVP. Baymax (voiced by 30 Rock's Scott Adsit) is a service robot Tadashi was developing before his untimely, narratively convenient demise. A big, inflatable buddy—he's like an air mattress with arms, legs, and a head—Baymax is a cross between Wall-E, E.T, the Iron Giant, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's benevolent protector in Terminator 2. He's sweet and a little simple—his programming requires him to inquire constantly if Hiro is suffering any physical or emotional pain, which, duh, he is, because he lost his brother—but he turns out to be the companion the kid needs. At first Baymax isn't equipped to be a fierce fighting machine, but Hiro quickly fixes that, turning him into a huggable Iron Man.
Built out of the parts of other films and comic books, Big Hero 6 hangs together thanks to its sweet spirit. Check the résumé of its two directors and you can understand the philosophy here: Don Hall's 2011 Winnie the Pooh was almost Zen-like in its minimalist adorableness, while Chris Williams' 2008 Bolt was a kid-sized action movie that never missed a chance to poke your heart. Neither film an animated classic but each winningly sentimental, they form the DNA of this new endeavor, which features plenty of the whiz-bang excitement and smart-ass humor beloved in Marvel's live-action movies. (In fact, once Hiro and Baymax hook up with a few of Tadashi's classmates, all of whom can construct their own super-suits, it's like we've got a teen edition of the X-Men on our hands.) But unlike the endless chaos and destruction plaguing summer blockbusters, where the death of hundreds of innocent bystanders doesn't seem to bother anyone, Big Hero 6 is reasonably scaled: Hiro's confrontations with his masked nemesis are bold and kinetic without being over-the-top and nihilistic.
But the movie's greatest charm lies its interactions between Hiro and Baymax. Grief-stricken and angry, the kid soon cottons to this big marshmallow of a robot pal. If you've seen Baymax's cinematic antecedents, there isn't a thing he does that will surprise you, and yet he's pretty damn delightful anyway, his misunderstanding of human customs a rich well of comedic potential. (I imagine we'll soon see a generation of young people who fist-bump the way Baymax does.) Adsit's understated voice work is key to the character's success: The robot's endless kindness and timidity are crucial for connecting with the traumatized, temperamental Hiro. Without being too cutesy, Big Hero 6 earns its pathos.
The kid in your life will probably outgrow this movie quickly—it's entertaining, but also a little square and inoffensive. (The wit and ambition of The Incredibles' fighter-jet sophistication is far beyond this film's training-wheels approach.) But until that happens, for all the parents out there who will be watching Big Hero 6 approximately 15,000 times at home with their tykes over the next couple years, take heart: At least know you'll be watching something good.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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