“Big Hero 6” is Walt Disney Animation’s lovely and sometimes touching attempt to do anime with computer-generated animation. Based on Marvel comic book characters, it’s a story-driven kid-pleasing mashup of plots, situations and ideas from scads of earlier tales of misfits battling a super villain.
It’s lightly amusing, even though it isn’t about the gags. It’s a potential franchise-starter, even though it rarely feels that cynical. And when it hits its sentimental third-act sweet spot, you will be touched. That rampant display of heart makes this the best message-driven cartoon since “Wall-E.”
In the not-distant future San Francisco has morphed into San Fransokyo, a pan-Asian megalopolis where young genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) wastes his talent building robots for “Bot Fighting,” which he then gambles on. He’s just been convinced to go to college with his brilliant brother Tadashi at the “Nerd University” where all the sharpest minds, led by the legendary Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), are inventing the future. Hiro’s foot in the door? Microrobots that clump into whatever their controller needs them to be – structures, transportation, “the only limit is your imagination.”
But Tadashi and Callaghan die in a fire, and the only thing that pulls Hiro out of his grief is his brother’s legacy, a prototype semi-inflatable “personal healthcare attendant” robot named Baymax. Baymax is a great sight gag – a bloated “walking marshmallow” with a kindly, insistent bedside manner. But he has skills that lead Hiro to conclude his brother was murdered, perhaps by a super villain, and that Baymax can help him find the killer.
The “misfits” who help them are his brother’s inventive classmates – nicknamed Go Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) by the goofball Freddy (T.J. Miller doing his best “Shaggy”).
Yes, most every ingredient does seem created by a marketing committee, from the post-racial cast to the merchandise-friendly aggregation of robots and special skills humans. But Baymax is more than just a ginger-footed joke who masters the fist-bump in the most adorable way, more than a huggable toy showing up in time for Christmas. He responds to cries of pain. He exists to protect, comfort, diagnose and heal. And it takes all of Hiro’s vengeful hatred to turn him from fluffy nurturer into an armored warrior capable of facing down this Kabuki masked villain who may be responsible for Tadashi’s death.
The messages are overwhelmingly positive, from “I’m not giving up on you” to “seatbelts save lives.” It’s a Marvel movie, so look for a Stan Lee cameo as well as the obligatory “outcasts” storyline. As story and characters go, this is a PG and Earthbound “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
It’s manipulative and overlong, too loud and “Incredibles” action-packed for the very young. But the manipulation errs on the side of mercy, compassion, sacrifice and humanity.
And the tone for “Hero” is actually set by a jewel of a Disney short attached to it. “Feast” is an almost wordless, verge-of-tears comic look at a dog’s life, from starving on the street to wallowing in his new master’s junkfood, to the dietary challenges of dating and marriage. It’s just adorable.