“Big Hero 6” started as an obscure, manga-influenced Marvel Comics property that got revamped into a Disney blockbuster. The translation turns out to be the best animated film of the year, supplying “The Incredibles”-size adventure with a level of emotional bonding not seen since “The Iron Giant.”
The story is set in the futuristic metropolis of San Fransokyo, offering the perfect metaphor for East-meets-West sensibilities. It’s a portmanteau of San Francisco and Tokyo (either way, the baseball team could still be named the Giants).
On the city streets, 14-year-old orphan Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) applies his genius tech skills to illegal robot fighting, hustling money from competitors while simultaneously squandering his potential.
Hoping to pull Hiro from his doldrums, older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) gives him a tour of the “nerd lab” at his college. There, Hiro meets Tadashi’s classmates, who are working on various high-tech projects with seemingly limited applications. These diverse friends include gawky Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), neat freak Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), punky Go Go (Jamie Chung) and eccentric goofball Fred (T.J. Miller — offering one of the most distinctive deliveries around).
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Fred, for instance, is developing an invisible sandwich: “Imagine eating a sandwich, but everybody just thinks you’re crazy,” he explains.
Tadashi also shows Hiro his own creation: an inflatable Personal Health Care Companion named Baymax (Scott Adsit of TV’s “30 Rock”) that he designed to be “a non-threatening, huggable” nurse/doctor/therapist.
The school’s administration takes note of Hiro’s potential and extends him a scholarship. But tragedy strikes during a campus science exhibition where Hiro is demonstrating his own mind-controlled nano-bots.
Realizing that the accident might not have been so accidental, Hiro goes on a quest to find who caused it and whether they also stole his potentially lucrative invention. To take on this shadowy menace, he makes a few upgrades to Baymax, turning the intrinsically good-natured robot into a reluctant weapon of vengeance.
“Big Hero 6” disguises its source material for a while, preferring to concentrate on the familiar Disney outcast who finds friendship through an unlikely partner. But then the movie gets all Marvel, with the geek squad transforming into the crime-fighting team of the title. What’s different about this group is they have no inherited abilities like the X-Men or any stumbled-upon ones a la Spider-Man.
Nope, they’re just smart — plenty of know-how crossed with a dose of youthful creativity. Science over sorcery. Education trumping brawn. Are you paying attention, youth of America?
Directors Don Hall (2011’s “Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”) do everything they can to make Baymax seem like a real, completely plausible piece of technology. He’s designed to keep the plucky Hiro in top physical and emotional condition, which is what makes his heroic exploits all the more hilarious.
With a body of a squishy Michelin Man, he can’t outrun bad guys — nor understand why he should be outrunning them. In one of the best scenes, Baymax suffers a low battery, as if he has had a few too many margaritas. It’s slapstick comedy at its most charming.
For as high-tech as the overall visual tapestry appears in this gorgeously rendered feature, Baymax sports a face that is simply two dots connected by a straight line. He can’t generate sympathy by widening his eyes into saucers or show anger by furrowing his brow. He doesn’t even have a mouth. He must convey his character purely through voice and actions. And he does it with admirable conviction.
“Big Hero 6” may hit a few familiar beats inherent to any superhero “origin story,” but this engrossing, uplifting movie never runs low on battery power.
‘BIG HERO 6’
Rated PG | Time: 1:48
3-D OR NOT 3-D?
The 3-D isn’t particularly noticeable until the second half of the film, as the comedy gives way to more action. Here, the process is effectively rendered to enhance speedy car chases and flight-oriented skirmishes.
FIRST: A ‘FEAST’ FOR THE EYES
Don’t miss the fine short film that precedes “Big Hero 6.” “Feast” is shot from the vantage point of a stray Boston terrier who grows up on plentiful table scraps at his owner’s bachelor pad. But things change when the man dates a vegetarian chef. Leaning heavily on storytelling that is largely dialogue-free, the memorable short marks the directing debut of Patrick Osborne, an animation supervisor on the Oscar-winning “Paperman.”