By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Science and superheroes: that’s the formula that gives the East-meets-West animated romp Big Hero 6 its oomph.
It’s a visually extravagant adventure comedy, a super-team origin story based on Marvel Comics characters, set in the fictional, futuristic city of San Fransokyo (which might be the result if San Francisco and Tokyo joined forces as a melded metropolis).
A 14-year-old Japanese-American engineering whiz named Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a high school grad who spends his time involved in underground robot fighting.
His older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) — with whom Hiro was orphaned years ago and brought up by their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) — convinces him to join him in college, where he is part of the elite robotics program.
That’s where Hiro presents his thought-controlled nano-bots as his admission project and tragedy strikes when a seemingly accidental but immediately suspicious explosion and subsequent fire claim the lives of Tadashi and a distinguished professor (James Cromwell).
Grief-stricken, Hiro discovers the bot Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), an almost featureless, ten-foot-tall, inflatable vinyl bot that looks like a giant marshmallow or a balloon animal (let’s face it, he’s adorable and huggable — watch for him on toy store shelves) built by Tadashi as a compassionate, polite, and helpful health-care guardian.
Together, they work to uncover a criminal plot and track down an ambitious thief.
They’re accompanied by their team of inexperienced crime-fighters, Tadashi’s former lab partners — including laser specialist Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemist Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), cyclist GoGo (Jamie Chung) , and wiseacre Fred (TJ Miller) — who dominate the hybrid city’s underground bot fights.
When Hiro realizes that whoever stole his nano-bot tech is using it for the wrong reasons, he is blinded by the need for vengeance and attempts to retool Baymax into an aggressive, crime-fighting weapon of destruction trying to fit into human-scaled spaces, sometimes by partially deflating.
Directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt) blend old-fashioned animation with photorealistic, computer-generated imagery, working from a busy screenplay — by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts, based on a story by Hall and Roberts that was itself based on the comic book by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau -– that is so subplot-heavy, the supporting characters don’t get as much emphasis as they deserve.
The second half of Big Hero 6 is too robotic and generic a superhero exercise to corral and sustain the interest of grownups in attendance. But young viewers will respond anyway, even though the film turns out to be too much of a pure, breathless action thriller for its own good.
But at least it includes the occasional slapstick bit or sight gag, and is willing to wear its manga and anime influences on its sleeve and poke around in some very dark corners, while offering occasional commentary that gives it the feel of a knowing Silicon Valley parable.
So we’ll inflate 2½ stars out of 4 for a competent and clever cross-cultural cartoon. Not as funny and heartwarming as it wants to be, Big Hero 6 still wins the day on the strength of the boffo bond between a boy and his bot.