BIG HERO 6
The slump of the 2000s seemed to get a shot in the arm with the appointment of Pixar CEO John Lasseter as chief creative officer in 2007. The animated films produced since the arrival of Lasseter have considerably improved. Not too surprisingly, the best of these works like Bolt (2008), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Zootopia (2016) have been ones that play to Pixars strengths endearing characters, sly and warm humour and a nerdish cleverness of concept, while one feels that more traditional Disney fairytale fare such as Tangled (2010) and the overrated Frozen (2013) has not been suited to this smarter take the exception might be The Princess and the Frog (2009).
Big Hero 6 comes from Don Hall, previously the co-director of Winnie the Pooh (2011), and Chris Williams, previously the co-director of Bolt. Both had also worked as writers on various Disney animated films over the last decade. Big Hero 6 began after Disneys purchase of Marvel Entertainment in 2009. Don Hall was looking through a catalogue of Marvel properties and came across Big Hero 6, a Marvel title that was originally launched in 1998. This concerns the ongoing adventures of a team of Japanese superheroes led by thirteen-year-old boy genius Hiro Takachiho.
Hall and Williams were given the freedom to develop the property as they saw fit, leaving a substantial number of differences between the comic-book and the film. Two of the principal characters in the line-up, Silver Samurai and Sunfire (and his sister Sunpyre), have been dropped because according to comic-book continuity they went onto join the X-Men but when it comes to the film the copyright on X-Men characters is held by 20th Century Fox. The comic-book is more of a standard superhero team, whereas fully half of the film is a boy and his robot story. There is no backstory about the death of his brother in the comic-book; Hiro is simply a child genius who is recruited into the organisation Big Hero 6, while he doesnt even become its leader until sometime later in the storyline. In the comic-book, it is Hiro who builds Baymax as part of a school science project rather than his brother. Moreover, the other members of the team are not lab assistants who become empowered with gadgets that Hiro provides them but are full-fledged superheroes with their own powers and origin stories even before Hiro comes along Fred is capable of actually transforming into a kaiju monster, for instance. Moreover, this is one film among the massively popular Marvel renaissance that is not designed with the intention of fitting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of continuity (although we do get a post-credits sequence where we meet Freds father who is an animated likeness of Stan Lee).
What we end up with on screen is a whole other invented first half that has nothing to do with the comic-book concerning Hiro losing his brother then discovering and befriending the inflatable medical robot that his brother built. In the comic-book, Baymax resembles a giant green-skinned demon figure (although is capable of transforming into a regular human), while the film has completely redesigned it to resemble something like the Stay Puft Man out of Ghostbusters (1984). The sections between the grieving Hiro and the politely helpful Baymax who accidentally co-opts Hiro into an investigation are among the best in the film. The patiently gentle creature is an original creation and there is an enormous degree of wit with his calmly reassuring diagnoses. Moreover, the filmmakers have spent a good deal of effort making sure their robotics are correct and credible, as witness the long list of robotics companies thanked on the end credits. There is no fake sentimentalism as Baymax suddenly discovers how to be human, for instance.
These sections make Big Hero 6 seem a highly promising film, even if they bear next to nothing to do with the comic-book. On the other hand, the latter half of the film travels in more traditional areas, becomes something quite different to what the first half has been. Here everything falls into standard superhero movie patterns. Its fun, the action has an exhilaration and the film strikes all the right triumphal bits. On the other hand, there is nothing that is too different from any of the other half-dozen superhero films that have been released this year and too much of it slips into a sameness.
The other complaint you would make is the films whitewashing of the comic-book. Whitewashing was a term coined a few years ago with the films The Last Airbender (2010) and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) to describe the Hollywood process of taking characters from an ethnic original story and recasting them with Caucasian faces. (This is not a new process and has been going on for decades before this, as witness almost any Sinbad film or Biblical spectacular). The comic-book is set in Japan and features Japanese characters. The film has sort of attempted to keep this while rewriting it for American audiences. Thus the location is now set in some kind of bizarre alternate reality called San Fransokyo, which is exactly what it sounds a San Francisco that appears to have been invaded by Japan (no explanation is offered for why this has happened, making it seem even more bizarre). The hero and his brother have Japanese names but in the way they are drawn and behave they are otherwise standard American kids. Even stranger is when it comes to the other members of the team who also retain very Japanese-sounding nicknames like Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Gogo Tomago, yet are drawn and voiced as Americanised characters when it comes to Wasabi, who in the original comic-book was a sword-wielding sushi chef, he is now rewritten as an African-American character who uses precision lasers.