Big on realism and sweet moments


108 minutes / Opens tomorrow / ***½

The story: In the future city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a kid engineering whiz who, much to the annoyance of his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), prefers to waste his talent on illegal robot street fights than on anything more productive.

Soon, Hiro will be forced to put his skills in robotics to good use when he and the large, blimp-like robot Baymax have to fight a mysterious new evil.

You would have to go back to 2012 to find anything like Big Hero 6 in the Disney catalogue: Wreck-It Ralph.

While that was a success, making US$470 million (S$607 million) worldwide, it was nothing like the box-office monster that was Frozen (2013), which grossed over US$1 billion.

While Ralph made less, it was a far braver film: That was Disney trying to break its highly profitable addiction to princesses, enchantment, wise- cracking sidekicks and musical numbers - and all the spin-off toy and brand merchandising that it entails.

Big Hero 6 continues the trend that Ralph began.

The characters inhabit worlds that while somewhat fantastical, are more realistic; and the films look more 3-D and computer-like, rather than the hand-drawn, retro affectations of Disney's princess stories, which are also done on computer.

But open the hood and the DNA inside this new work is undeniably Disney.

Here are the old-fashioned American optimism, the kid hero protagonist and the less-than-subtle lessons about the value of friendship and family.

But the influence of executive producer and Pixar alumnus John Lasseter can be seen in the detail of the hybrid San Francisco-Tokyo world of San Fransokyo, in which Hiro and his friends live - there is great attention to design detail.

Hiro's world is the kinder, gentler and far sunnier cousin of the teeming Amerasian metropolis seen in Blade Runner (1982).

Disney will say this work is all-ages entertainment, but it lacks the references, sophistication and ironic distance that such a work requires.

Everything is there on the surface - the emotions, the dramatic conflicts and the resolutions. There is nothing here that could even be remotely construed as satirical.

In the best Pixar works - such as Wall-E (2008) and its starship filled with passive, obese passengers, and The Incredibles (2004) and its world in which superheroes actually have to co-exist with normal people - it is apparent that the adult appeal lies very much in how they reflect and mock adult foibles.

There is none of that here.

But what Big Hero 6 does very well is serve sweetness and sentiment with class, thanks to its relaxed, confident pacing.

There is a scene in the police station, shown in the film trailer, in which a leaking Baymax patches his punctures with sticky tape - that is one sweet, finely judged moment in a movie that does not lack for them.

This article was first published on Nov 12, 2014.
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