Saturday, January 9, 2016

Big Hero 6

Year 8, Day 9 - 1/9/16 - Movie #2,209

BEFORE:  Like I said the other day, it's funny how people discount information that doesn't prove their case - you can call this the first Disney superhero film, but since Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney, you have to at least mention "The Incredibles", right?  Because that would be the first.  And "The Incredibles" was a take on the Fantastic Four, which was a Marvel property, and since now Marvel is owned by Disney, too, that was a neat way to avoid a lawsuit.  It's OK, Disney also owns Star Wars, the Muppets, ABC and ESPN, so you can smell the corporate synergy working.  (One of us, one of us...)

T.J. Miller carries over from "How to Train Your Dragon 2".  And I realize I never watched the first 5 Big Hero films, so I hope I can follow the story....

THE PLOT: Prodigy Hiro Hamada and inflatable robot Baymax team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

AFTER: Given the similarities to "How to Train Your Dragon 2", it's not surprising that the two films were up against each other for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  What similarities?  A teen boy central figure that lost a family member, who can fly thanks to a character he trained himself, teams up with his male + female friends to defeat an evil entity that uses invention/tech similar to his own.  See?  Just move the setting from Viking Land to future New San Fransokyo, and it's nearly the same movie.  I would have given the edge in that contest to "How to Train Your Dragon 2", but voters might have been turned off by a sequel, and mistakenly thought this one was more original, as if that means anything any more. 

"Big Hero 6" is based on a (relatively) obscure Marvel comic book - there's that corporate synergy again - and I was all set to chide this movie for having a character named Hiro who becomes a hero, ripping off Hiro Nakamura from NBC's "Heroes", but the truth is, Hiro Hamada came first - the comic book character was introduced in 1998, and the "Heroes" TV show made its debut in 2006. 

But they sort of wiped the story slate clean to make this movie, and I think that was a wise decision - this way they don't have to explain who Alpha Flight is, or bring Sunfire into the mix, they can do an origin story the right way and let a story develop in proper narrative order.  See, it can be done.  

But I've got issues with they way that inventing works here, it's sort of an all-purpose way of fixing every problem.  The best inventions take a specific problem (losing your socks in the dryer, for example) and then figure out a bit of tech that targets exactly that.  There are exceptions, of course, as people sometimes try to invent one thing and accidentally stumble on another.  But nobody locks themself away in a lab and thinks, "I'm going to keep tinkering until I invent something that fixes everything."  

Baymax was built as a medical robot, for example - his creator (Hiro's brother) saw a need in some communities for proper medical care, so he built something that would address that problem.  Then Hiro took Baymax and tinkered with him so that he'd be able to do whatever he wanted him to, or whatever the story demanded, and that's just not feasible.  First he was an invention, then he became a walking contrivance.  The people who write "Iron Man" treat the armor the same way - they may start with a list of features that Stark's suit has, but if it needs to do something new, they just retro-engineer that, assuming Tony Stark coincidentally built that feature last week, in-between panels. 

Hiro's microbots are a similar contrivance - what do they do?  Everything.  His battlebot was an invention, but his microbots are pure fantasy.  And I guess fantasy is OK, but if they want kids to be interested in science and inventing, a noble goal, they're setting the bar way too high.  Like Hiro, kids are going to end up staring at a blank piece of paper for a long time because they can't wrap their brains around a problem that's so poorly defined, which is the problem of "everything".  I'm guessing it would be better to start small, figure out how a circuit works, let's say, and then expand out from there.  (Maybe that's just how I think, I'm in the business of problem-solving as pertains to movies, but I can't solve the whole thing at once - instead I solve today's problem today, then tomorrow I'll solve tomorrow's problem, and then hope somehow the whole thing comes together...)

Plus, if this film is set in the future, even the near future, one assumes that cool things will be invented between now and then, and that takes a little bit of the impressiveness out of Hiro's (and everyone's) inventions.  For all we know, they're only making slight modifications to things that people will invent 10 years from now, and they're 12 years out.  But maybe now I'm over-thinking things. 

It was obvious to me that Hiro trained his superhero friends individually, and forgot to train them as a team, but at least the film didn't hit the audience over the head with this plot point.  There wasn't this rallying moment where they said, "Come on, everyone, we have to work TOGETHER!" even though that's what essentially happened.  Instead the encouraging message was to "stop, think about a way around the problem" as if that would just automatically happen.  Again, as with the inventing, if someone doesn't have the proper knowledge base as a frame of reference, they probably won't be able to think creatively around something.  If they were trained with their powers only one way, they might be stuck in just one train of thought.  But, they are all science geeks, so maybe you can assume they're used to thinking experimentally - but the kids at home, probably not so much.  

NITPICK POINT: Honey Lemon?  Is that a character or a cough drop flavor?  And her super-powers come from carrying around a purse?  What a way to set back the image of strong female characters.  

NITPICK POINT #2: Hiro loses his invention, and...that's it?  He can't rebuild or re-create it?  Did he forget to take proper notes or something?  OK, so I guess he's depressed, but logically if someone invents something, they should be able to invent it again, which isn't inventing, it's just rebuilding.  His brother took many notes when he built Baymax, and that's shown as a process of trial and error and more trial.  By contrast, Hiro just "invents" and I guess it's a one-time thing, because he seems to have no interest or ability to re-do his work. 

Also starring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit (last seen in "We're the Millers"), Daniel Henney, James Cromwell (last seen in "The Artist"), Maya Rudolph (last seen in "The Way Way Back"), Damon Wayans, Jr. (last seen in "Let's Be Cops"), Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Alan Tudyk (last seen in "42"), with cameos from Billy Bush, Stan Lee (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy")

RATING: 6 out of 10 pain levels

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