Disney gives corporate synergy a workout in its latest 3-D animated feature, “Big Hero 6.” The entertainment giant digs deep into the library of thriving subsidiary Marvel to construct a superhero ’toon with the busy group dynamics of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers.” (They’ve already got Pixar’s “The Incredibles 2” on the docket, but as Marvel surely helps remind its parent, these days it’s all about keeping a lot of super-balls in the air.) Still, the creations being mined by directors Don Hall (2011’s “Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”) have a negligible history – they’re mostly just monikers and costumes, really. This is more a case of the animators exploring Marvel’s most resonant theme, the one about great power demanding great responsibility. The result is a rousing movie that’s satisfyingly infused with traditional Disney sentiment, however calculated its aims might sound.
The fully realized character at the center of it all is Hiro (Ryan Potter), an adolescent tech genius gleefully frittering away his time hustling back-alley “ ’bot fights” with cute little homemade contraptions. What else is a kid supposed to do when he’s got no parents, he finished school at 13, and the edgy thrills of near-future “San Fransokyo” beckon? (Swell mash-up, by the way, especially the pagodafied Golden Gate Bridge.)
Hiro’s level-headed older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), steers him toward his engineering school, where a wise professor (James Cromwell) and the gang down in the “nerd lab” (Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez) manage to sell him on the place. But just as Hiro has secured admission with a crazy-brilliant morphing-metal invention, tragedy strikes. Enter the movie’s biggest bit of inspiration, in every sense: irresistibly guileless Baymax (Scott Adsit, “30 Rock”), a roly-poly robotic samaritan in the Stay Puft/Michelin weight class who helps Hiro deal with grief issues. Baymax has been programmed as a health monitor, but Hiro shrewdly realizes that getting to the truth of that fateful calamity – who’s the villainous guy in the kabuki mask? – qualifies as a quality-of-life thing. Hiro armors up the robot, whips up some boffiny super-guises for himself and the lab crew, and the crusading Big Hero 6 is born.
The interaction between this potentially lost boy and his new best friend is touchingly, humorously played, with Adsit’s quirkily expressive voice work making you swear that the robot’s minimalist face – just two dots and a dash! – is somehow being tweaked. This core relationship is able to support and help drive earnest themes about coping with loss, themes that the story surprisingly examines a few times, from varying perspectives. We don’t get that much narratively out of team members GoGo, Wasabi, or Honey Lemon, although hang-loose hanger-on Fred (T.J. Miller, “Transformers”) is a kick. But no matter – the two big heroes we do get are plenty.
Watch the film’s trailer:
Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.