Big Hero 6 is as big-hearted and as irresistibly adorable as its chief character Baymax, a huge inflatable robot whose only goal in life is to provide satisfactory medical healthcare to its owner, teenage genius Hiro Hamada. More used to creating fighting robots to compete in ferocious backstreet battles, Hiro is initially deeply ambivalent about the softly spoken white vinyl marshmallow, which might be able to sooth a bump on the head or a stubbed toe but who can do little to help heal or even understand Hiro’s deeper emotional wounds that stem from having been orphaned at a young age and raised by his older brother Tadashi and his aunt Cass.
Hiro starts as as a typical resentful, moody teen. Just when it appears that his life is about to turn around as a result of being inspired by meeting Tadashi’s fellow university students and their tutor, the legendary robotics professor Robert Callaghan (voiced by the unmistakeable James Cromwell, almost the only big name member of the cost), further tragedy strikes and sends Hiro spiralling into deep depression which is only worsened by Baymax’s well-meaning but facile attempts to help.
It’s the ensuing development of the relationship between Hiro (Ryan Potter) and Baymax (Scott Adsit) over the course of the short but perfectly formed 102-minute film that is the heart and soul of the success of the movie. Baymax has the sweet innocence of some of the greatest robot creations of the genre (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data comes particularly to mind) but the film never forgets that he is indeed just a robot. Baymax never wishes to be a real boy, only to complete his programmed service to Hiro by making him feel better – no matter to what it requires. By a circuitous route this ends up sending the pair into a full-on confrontation with an evil Doctor Octopuss-style supervillain running rampant in the city of San Fransokyo, with Hiro recruiting the help of a group of friends along the way that he equipes with futuristic weapons for their endeavours.
If you haven’t already been able to tell, this is an anime version of a junior Avengers team-up, with Hiro playing the Tony Stark role. The film skews quite young for the most part but never forgets to entertain the adults at the same time even as it continually delights the youngsters in the audience. And in fact there’s a surprisingly intense core of rather tough, even dark material running through the film which might make it a little disturbing for the very young, as Hiro is confronted by some genuinely upsetting events of almost Bambi levels of magnitude. Hiro himself ends up going almost full-Vader as he seeks the ultimate revenge on the perpetrator for his losses, meaning that he has to be pulled back from the brink by Baymax and his friends. There’s no magical reset button for Hiro’s traumas, just the promise that it really is possible to live through even the darkest times and to come out the other side and rebuild one’s life, and even to end up finding uplifting inspiration from the journey.
It’s hard to fault the film. Only the fact that it wears its influences so brazenly means that it lacks the truly original, innovative creativity of the likes of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc.. Indeed Pixar beat its sister Walt Disney Animation studio with its own foray into this sort of comic book mash-up ground with 2004’s The Incredibles although there it was a James Bondian rather than anime inflection, and Fantastic Four as the superhero model in preference to the Avengers.
But The Incredibles was 11 years ago (I know – shocking, isn’t it?) and times move on – as do computer animation techniques. This film shows off the very latest state of the art CGI to impressive effect in every single frame, but most of all in the characterisations of Hiro, Baymax, Tadashi and the rest of the superhero team. I soon forgot to look at them as CGI creations at all and simply accepted them as being as real as any actors in a life-action film, even as I marvelled at the animated presentation of the futuristic city, the Apple-inflected styling of the buildings, and the expertly directed and visualised action/adventure of the battle scenes.
When it comes to audio-visual presentation, Walt Disney is reliably as good as it gets. No matter how impressively detailed and demanding the picture gets, the Blu-ray transfer copes with ease and without any sign of artefacting, banding or black crush so that there is nothing to distract from how spectacularly gorgeous every vista looks, each texture is rendered and all the characters are brought to life. Sound-wise it’s pretty perfect, too: crystal-clear with a well-judged balance between voices, sound FX and score so that nothing is missed even at low volumes, it’s also a treat if you crank it up loud when the neighbours are out to allow the whole thing to flood into your living room and fill the space with a dazzlingly busy all-round soundscape.
The only point on which the Blu-ray falls down is in the additional special features, which are disappointingly standard if not even a little miserly – a trend throughout the Mouse House’s recent releases and also those of their subsidiary labels such as the Marvel Universe franchise. It makes you wonder whether the forthcoming Star Wars releases will be similarly skimped.
Still, you do get a 15 minute featurette of the origins of the film, and another short feature half that length comprised of a roundtable discussion between the creative minds behind the movie. There’s some deleted scenes with introductions by the directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, but no audio commentary for these or the film itself. There’s a short theatrical trailer which is actually an original scene featuring the characters from the film and a lovely treat, and the animated short Feast that accompanied Big Hero 6 in the theatres is also included which tells a dog’s life (and that of his owner) through the lens of many meal times together. The UK release also gets a new Mickey Mouse short set in Tokyo, and while this isn’t a patch on the main feature or the Feast short it’s still a genuine delight to see Mickey back in action after so many years on the sidelines as a company corporate figurehead.
For me, Big Hero 6 comes very close to being a flat-out five star film. If it misses at all, it does so by a hair; and if it proves to be anywhere near as good under multiple viewings as I suspect it will then it’ll overcome that near-miss and ascend to the top echelon of favourite films in very short order. It’s a most worthy winner of the Best Animated Film Oscar (and Feast picked up the best animated short award as well) and is a modern instant classic that has firmly earned its place alongside the greatest all-time hits in the Walt Disney pantheon.
Update: A second viewing in less than a week, and Big Hero 6 has more than earned its fifth star. Told you it would be in very short order. All in all, I can say without question: I am satisfied with my care.
The DVD and Blu-ray of Big Hero 6 was released on May 25 2015.