Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review (Part 1 of 2): Big Hero 6: Or, Robots, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems

We saw Big Hero Six over the weekend, and we all enjoyed it a lot. I tend to divide a lot of my movie reviews into two posts. The first post is primarily an introduction, a review of the previews we saw, and a little bit of context and observation, with the first part of the first act at the bottom.  Scroll down to the section labelled "The Movie", if you read movie reviews for the review. There is one spoiler in this review, but it's a minor one.

Link to the second part of the Big Hero Six movie review.

The Source Material

I was aware of the Big Hero 6 comics, but I never read them.  I thought, "Hmmmm...A team of Asian superheroes, created by two white guys, composed of heroes who have names like Wasabi-No-Ginger, and superpowers based on Western stereotypes about Asia. That sounds like it could be anywhere from a tiny bit insensitive to AMAZINGLY RACIST."

Skimming the Wikipedia article, it seems like I made the right choice in not reading them. But that's neither here nor there.  The movie is here, and it's much better.


Paddington:  Seems mostly harmless, but entirely bland. Hugh Bonneville is wasted here, though if the movie had taken place in Downton Abbey, I'd probably watch it. Nicole Kidman plays an evil taxidermist, which is just what the Paddington franchise needed.

(Untitled Christian Rock movie): It actually has a title. I just forgot what it was. It's a documentary about Christian Rock. It looks slickly produced, but I feel I'm not the target audience.

Annie: They've been advertising this forever. We went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 over the Summer, where we first saw the trailer for Big Hero Six, and saw a trailer similar to the one we saw at this movie. A couple bigots online lost their shit on learning that Annie was going to be played by an African-American girl, but fuck them.

Sorry, bigots. It's a hard knock life.

It looks cute, the leads look engaging, and I hope it does well. Lily won some movie passes, and she planned to use them to see Annie. The only reason we used them for Big Hero 6 is that it came out first.

Spare Parts: On one hand it's a plucky underdog story, which tend to be inspiring in theory, but deathly dull in practice, and it's got what has to be the worst title imaginable. On the other, it's got George Lopez, an actor towards whom I'm always kindly disposed. (However, I see he's fourth-billed, so I'm thinking the trailers have probably exaggerated his role.) Jen will probably see this on her own with a friend, and I'll stay home playing video games.

Tomorrowland: There is no a lot of information on this one out there (compared to other blockbuster). The trailer is very intriguing, showing a girl being released from juvie, where she finds a magical token in her possession. It could be good, it could be bad, but the marketing definitely has me interested.

Penguins of Madagascar: It's hard to imagine anything worse than this trailer, except for the movie it's advertising. It was like listening to nails on a chalkboard, while chewing tin foil and watching a video of a kitten getting punched in the face.

Minions: Despicable Me is one of those series that doesn't really appeal to me, but I respect the craftsmanship employed in making it. I don't like it, but I don't hate it either. Minions is probably going to be more of the same. I was briefly excited when I saw that it was a period piece set in 1968 and Jon Hamm would be doing a voice. I thought he might be doing a cartoon version of Don Draper, but the summary suggests he's not.

Inside Out: It's Herman's Head, but animated! Pixar is almost always good, so this should be, too. I really like the design on Sadness.

Animated Short - Feast

This avalanche of previews was followed by Feast, in the vein of Paperman, from Wreck-It-Ralph. It was cute, and had a nice PSA in the end credits about adopting strays.


Aunt Cass: She was voiced by Maya Rudolph, and her expressions and mannerisms seem to mirror Rudolph's. The character really didn't work for me at all. She was frenetic and wacky and stream of consciousness and making her Maya Ruldoph face, but she just grated.

Hiro and Tadashi: I'm not a fan at all of white actors playing POC, so I think it's pretty cool that both characters were voiced by actors of mixed Asian and European ancestry, like their characters. Wikipedia claims (but does not cite references. Bad Wikipedia!) that Ryan Potter's (Hiro) first language is Japanese, which is impressive, because his English was flawless.

Alistair Krei: Ugh. This guy again. Alan Tudyk has stolen Walt Disney's frozen head and is blackmailing the company. Until he returns it, they will have no choice but to cast him in every movie they make.

Fred: I wound up liking Fred, and I didn't think I would. I gave him the benefit of the doubt due to his voice work on Gravity Falls, but he eventually grew on me on top of that.

Baymax:  Like Vin Diesel as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, Scott Adsit infuses what could have been some one-note voicework with some real emotions.

And a spoiler-ish one too, but if you were surprised by this, you weren't paying attention.

Professor Callaghan: James Cromwell has a very distinctive voice. It took me about three seconds to peg him as the villain, using this handy flowchart.

The Movie

The movie opens by panning over the skyline of "San Fransokyo", which, as the name suggests, a a futuristic amalgam of San Francisco and Toyko. We zoom across the city, before closing in on an underground Battlebots-type robot fight, which is of course a thing in San Fransokyo.

A big scary bot controlled by a big scary man demolishes another bot, and then young Hiro steps up. His adorable bot

gets crushed. He begs for a rematch, and after he antes up, he gets it, whereupon his bot shreds the other machine easily. It's the second best hustle in cinema, right after the time Huey Lewis scammed a guy by pretending not to be good at karoake in Duets.   The champion is pissed about being hustled, and sends his goons after Hiro, who is rescued by his older brother on his motorcycle. Everybody's caught, the kids are thrown in jail and bailed out shortly thereafter by their Aunt Cass.

Aunt Cass gives us the infodump on the ride home. She's excessively quirky, and her characterization is of the few things that I dislike about this movie. When How To Train Your Dragon 2 came out, I was discussing it online and I observed that the characters tended to emote excessively and banter rather than speak. A friend agree, saying, "I was reading a Kung Fu Panda review awhile back that nailed it. Basically, Dreamworks' cartoons (and the vast majority of modern animated fare) are very uncomfortable with silence in the films."  I think that's the core of my dislike. Her mannerisms strike as those of a Dreamworks character. (And, to be fair, she gets better in later appearances.)

Tadashi is a great character. More on him a little later, but he's really trying to be a good guy and a good brother. Like the other characters in the movie, he's just fundamentally decent. He tells his brother that Hiro is wasting his potential, and Hiro wants to run off to another bot fight. Seeing he can't dissuade his brother, Tadashi offers to take him there, as it's safer than letting him go alone. He just needs to stop by his lab to pick up something there.

This is just a ruse to intrigue Hiro with all his cool friends and tools at the lab. I thought this was a pretty decent way to introduce the rest of the cast too.

In order, Hiro meets

GoGo Tomago
GoGo didn't really do it for me. I like badass action girls as much as anyone, and the creators said they looked at bike messengers for her look and personality. I liked the design, and her mannerisms with the gum, but I didn't feel a lot of personality.

Wasabi was Lily's favorite character. She liked that a character could be strong and smart, and we talked about how a lot of people are like that in real life. I liked him too. He's fussy and particular, and out of all the supporting cast, he felt the most authentic.

Honey Lemon
Honey Lemon. She's enthusiastic, but not in an annoying way. Another minor gripe is that the background information suggests that she's Hispanic,  but you'd never no it by looking at her. (Yes, there certainly are light-skinned Hispanic people, but Hollywood never seems to portray the Hispanic community as anything but light-skinned, and I'm somewhat disappointed that Big Hero 6 is contributing to the problem.)

I was extremely leery of Fred when watching the previews. Did we really need a second comic relief character? However, he's a lot less grating than I had feared. All the characters move in distinct fashions, but Fred's seem especially well-mapped to his character. Below there is some footage of how each character enters a room.

Tadashi shows him Baymax, the healthcare companion robot he's building, and also introduces him to Professor Callaghan, who's so smart that he doesn't even spell his name like a normal person. (Okay, some quick googling shows it's not that terribly uncommon, but I'd never encountered it.)

Science fiction is often technophobic. It seems strange to say, but "Science run Amok!" is a common theme. It's really nice to see a positive portrayal of both scientists and technology, particularly in something aimed at kids.

Hiro decides he absolutely needs to get into the school, so he builds a nanotech swarm, here called microbots, and shows them off at the school's annual exhibition. He wins and this guarantees him entry. (I assume there are other avenues as well, otherwise they'd have a pretty small student body.) He impresses Callaghan, as well as the needlessly sinister Alistair Krei, who's all like "I'm very impressed with your robots after that two minute scripted exhibition, and would like to offer you eleventy billion dollars." He then twirls his mustache and ties a woman to some railroad tracks. Callaghan warns him that Krei is not to be trusted, and Hiro turns him down.

Everybody's happy and they're going to the cafe to celebrate, but Tadashi wants to spend a few minutes alone with Hiro first.

This is a good point to stop.  For the second part of the review, click over to this post.


  1. so you are offended by white people voicing nonwhite actors (I refuse to use the very racist term of "poc") but have no problem with nonwhites playing whites? Typical SJW hypocrisy.

    1. At first I thought this was just a run of the mill drive-by trolling, but then I realized that you were right! I thought I was merely expressing a slight personal preference, but you knew what I was thinking, without me even having to write it!

      I'll really have some thinking to do over the next several days.

      Please, allow me to apologize, not just for myself, but for all Social Justice Warriors everywhere. I wish you luck in your crusade, and I only hope you can show more SJWs the error of their ways.