'Big Hero 6'

Tech orphan Hiro must save San Fransokyo in Disney's Big Hero 6
TURNING JAPANESE: Big Hero 6 depicts a Blade Runnerish version of the City by the Bay as robots clash and car chases ensue.

The opening short for Disney's Big Hero Six is Patrick Osborne's Feast. I'd like to celebrate it as a cartoon doing at least five things at once very well—addressing a worthwhile topic in a new way; telling a story without words, showing great craft in the funny-animal animation field; finding quiet moments so delicate that they'd evaporate in any other medium; and, lastly, going big and cartoony when describing the gross physical pleasure of chowing down.

Winston the Boston terrier puppy lives in an ecstasy of eating. It's a happy life for the dog, and a half-seen person, in the background—the real action takes place behind the dog's back. A health-conscious woman moves in. Suddenly, instead of the usual mess of pizza and spaghetti in his bowl, Winston finds three wretched Brussel sprouts capped with a cilantro leaf.

Feast is meant to tackle a problem: it's trying to persuade our obese public to eat that rabbit food. Cartoons usually punish gluttony the Dante way: remember that film noir menace in a famous Looney Tunes punchline, "This time, we didn't forget the gravy." Surprise: Winston earns his way back into glutton's heaven. Without spoiling this cartoon, you can say that the unspoken motto is gently persuasive—eat with less gusto, live to feast with the next generation.

Big Hero 6 has a Soviet title, but it's stylistically simpler than Feast and it's several times as fast. It's built to amaze, and amaze it does. It'd take some 10 viewings to unravel the knockout action scenes and properly enjoy its fantasy city of San Fransokyo. The City is here like the Japanamerica Philip K. Dick wrote about in The Man in the High Castle. Korii arches top the caissons of the Golden Gate Bridge. Coit Tower is a pagoda. Everything Asiatic meant to give the audience an oriental anxiety attack in 1982's Blade Runner—the neon, the noodle-shops, the blimps, the ornaments—is here used to delight an audience of 2014. Big Hero 6 is the triumph of the aesthetics of Giant Robot magazine.

Our orphaned hero Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a scruffy 14-year-old designer who fritters away his skills in illegal robot fights. Big brother Tadashi took a more legitimate path at the lab in SF Tech. Tadashi works with an assorted, but never really fully differentiated, student Scooby Gang of 5—particularly the Shaggyish leader Fred (T J Miller of TV's Silicon Valley).

Tadashi's breakthrough invention is an inflatable first-aid robot named Baymax, a 'bot of pleasantly toneless calm voiced by Scott Adsit. After some plot thickening, Hiro seeks to retrofit Baymax the nurse-bot into a warrior. And to the film's credit, this upgrade has mixed results for the boy.

Baymax is self-inflating, but Big Hero Six doesn't puff itself up with importance. It's seemingly as simple as the conflict of a good professor and the evil corporatist who opposes him—James Cromwell and Alan Tudyk do the respective voices. If you've ever daydreamed what a Disney animated Batman would look like, it's here: a Kabuki-masked engineer surfs a tidal wave of millions of mentally-controlled robots, each the size of a toggle button. Riding his moving steel mountains, he stimulates the first car chase I've cared about in years—our gang races in Alfa-Romeo sized four-banger trying to find shelter on the steepest hills and the narrowest alleys. A few training montages slow the tempo. But Big Hero 6 gets back its excitement in what you could call "the final-finale," a 3D-augmented King Jack Kirby style negative zone, bursting with tropical colors, a reef of colossal sea anemones and razor-sharp debris.

Big Hero 6 is everything you'd hope for a superhero movie, with speed, adventure, cataclysm and comic relief in the right spots. It's not overwhelmed with small spots of humor aimed for the 12-20 year old males. This is probably the first Disney cartoon to (almost) mention pubic hair. If the producers are fishing for young male viewers, this dazzling spectacle doesn't flatter their bloody-mindedness. It's still takes good old Comic Code approach to vigilantism. It's not craving retro kid stuff to sort of prefer stories with a villain alive and chastened.

Big Hero 6

105 MIN.; PG

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