Big heart, cool mix


Action comedy/108 minutes/Opens today

Rating: 4/5

The story:

Fourteen-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is wasting his talent on grifting illegal bot fights in the seedy underbelly of San Fransokyo.

His concerned older brother, university student Tadashi (Daniel Henney), takes him to his school. There, the delinquent meets his brother's egghead friends and Baymax (Scott Adsit), a nursebot that Tadashi designed.

Motivated to turn over a new leaf, Hiro takes part in the school's annual exhibition to gain admission. On the night of the unveiling of his invention - a swarm of miniature robots called microbots - tragedy strikes and Tadashi is killed.

Losing his brother soon becomes the least of Hiro's problems, though, when a man wearing a Kabuki mask steals his microbots, possibly for heinous intents.

Together with Tadashi's pals and a weaponised Baymax, Hiro sets out to apprehend the masked menace and save his city.

I LOVE mash-ups: fusion cuisine, YouTube parodies, crossover fanart, you name it.

I'm also into nerdy stuff: I read comic books, collect action figurines and have even cosplayed.

If you dig any of these things, Walt Disney Animation Studios' film adaptation of an obscure Marvel tokusatsu comic will be right up your alley. The studio's 54th feature film, its follow-up to the immensely popular (and overrated) Frozen, is a paean to pop culture and technology.

The diversity in ethnicity and character of Hiro's squad of geeks with combat skills puts other mainstream movies to shame: There's my favourite team member, the ebullient Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez); fastidious Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr); daredevil Go Go Tamago (Jamie Chung) and laidback Fred (T. J. Miller).

Prior to the film's release, there were claims that Disney whitewashed the cast, who were Japanese in the comics.

While this deviation from the source material is regrettable, making the team multiracial - for example, Hiro is Amerasian and Honey Lemon is Latino - turns out to be a more inclusive decision.

The fact that they don't fall into ethnic stereotypes - the dreadlocked Wasabi, for instance, is neurotic and easily spooked - is even more admirable.

The star of the show, though, is the innocent yet perceptive "Personal Healthcare Companion" Baymax, whose relationship with the grieving brother of his creator forms the emotional centre of the movie.

He has the clumsiness of Wall-E, the literal-mindedness of the Terminator and the empathy of the Iron Giant. Some of the movie's funniest and most heartwarming moments come from Hiro teaching the robot human customs and the latter, in turn, showing the former what it means to be a hero.

This movie's setting, San Fransokyo (no prizes for guessing which two cities it is inspired by), showcases the talent of the animators and artists in cultural appropriation. One of the film's most beautiful sequences involves Hiro and Baymax taking an aerial tour of the city, soaring over a Golden Gate Bridge look-alike that resembles the torii of a Shinto shrine and slaloming through colourful wind turbines shaped like koi kites.

Directors Don Hall (Winnie The Pooh, 2011) and Chris Williams (Bolt, 2008) have a great eye for action choreography; one of my favourite setpieces is a white-knuckle pursuit of the group's minivan by the silent villain Yokai and the microbots.

Since Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Disney has been having plot twists in its animated films. Screenwriters Robert Baird, Daniel Gerson and Jordan Roberts drop a few red herrings to keep the audience guessing Yokai's identity, though the list of suspects is small.

Also, the plot is formulaic to the point that Fred points out to his friends (and the audience) the various tropes as they happen, although it hits the right emotional beats. Sadly, Hiro's teammates, save Baymax, get the short shrift in character development and screen time.

Music-wise, Henry Jackman's hybrid orchestral-synth score is uplifting but too reminiscent of his work on Wreck-It Ralph.

Big Hero 6 might not be afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, but that's not a bad thing considering its heavy themes of loss, revenge and forgiveness. Coupled with a likeable cast, mesmerising visuals and a reverence for geek culture, Disney's inspired pastiche, much like its eponymous superheroes, is greater than the sum of its parts.

By the way, be sure to arrive early to catch the accompanying short film Feast, a sweet love story told through a dog's meals.

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