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Big Hero 6 Review: Satisfaction Guarenteed

INTRO_Disney_BigHero6_guideI got a chance to go see Disney’s newest flick ‘Big Hero 6’ this past weekend.  I really didn’t know what to expect going in to the theater.  I was roughly familiar with the source material: a 90’s-tastic Japanese super hero team created by the ever loathsome Scott Lobdell and starring every Japanese movie stereotype known to man – ninjas, samurai, giant monsters, robots, etc.  I was also aware that the team working on this film were also the ones behind Wreck-It Ralph, a film that now ranks among one of my all time favorites.  So what does this strange collaboration of Disney magic and horrible 90’s comic schlock produce?  Actually something pretty fun.

While the film was based on an American comic book, it doesn’t really draw its overall influence from there.  In fact, I’d say the film has stronger ties with Eastern media like Astro Boy (in many ways this film reminded me of the underrated 2009 Astro Boy film that Imagi Animation made).  The film centers around a young genius named Hiro who loses his mentor/best friend/pseudo-criminal-accomplice big brother in an accident leaving him horribly depressed.  Hiro also comes into possession of Baymax, his brothers final invention.  Baymax is a big inflatable robot designed to help take care of people who are injured or in need of medical or psychological help.  With Baymax at his side, Hiro discovers the accident that took his brother may not have been an accident after all but the works of a super villain. So Hiro, Baymax and Hiro’s friends must suit up as super heroes to stop the villain.

If that sounds a bit run of the mill, it kinda is.  One of the films…  I hesitate to say “flaw” because it really isn’t but one of its traits is that it is a very formulaic film.   If you’ve seen super hero movies, you’ll recognize all the major story beats here.  From the fact that the group isn’t coordinated at all in their first fight with the villain and end up taking each other out, to the newly energized and ready to work as a team battle that gives them more direct challenges to overcome from the villain which they use a lesson from earlier in the film to help overcome.  If that sounds familiar to you, then the rest of the story will probably as well.  It gets to the point where superhero comic book fanboy character Fred even starts pointing out tropes. However, as they say, god is in the details.

What makes the film wonderful is all the little details that break the mold.  From the vividly diverse cast of characters, voiced by an equal diverse cast, to the fortitude to risk releasing a Disney super hero movie without a love story stuck in there in anyway.  Think about that.  Disney AND Superheroes.  Two groups who are known for the token romantic interests with guy gets the girl endings.  Not here.  Not even a hint of it.  Which is quite the breath of fresh air actually.  In the original comics, Hiro and Honey Lemon WERE an item and I was wondering how they would pull that off, especially since the main character is around 14 years old and the rest of the cast is 18+ and in college.  There’s been some complaints against Honey Lemon, that she has the quickly becoming cliche “Disney Face”.  You know, that Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa all use the same rough face.  Luckily, they did change it up a bit with Honey.  She is somewhat implied to be a Latina character (voiced by a Latina actress who brings that out with various vocal inflections) and she is also a friggin twig.  Like not “princess skinny” where they are thin but still have hips and a bust and toned legs, etc.  No.  Honey in profile would like more like a straight line.  Not like anorexic sickly skinny either.  Just a twig.  Reminds me of my real life sister who is also a twig.  So at least there’s SOME deviation there.

At its heart, the film is about a young man coming to grips with loss and dealing with the grief that resulted from losing someone close.   From isolation and depression, to lashing out in anger and accidentally hurting your friends in the process.  It handles it magnificently as well.  With the care and understanding that such a story deserves.  You never feel Hiro’s actions are because he’s being annoying or going over the top.  The film is very clear about his actions coming from a place of deep hurting, and it conveys that to audience perfectly.  At the heart of this is Baymax, who serves as the emotional foil for Hiro.  Baymax is designed to be calm, gentle, and understanding.  He’s a robot whose sole purpose is to help those in pain, be it physical or emotional and as such is there to help Hiro through this journey.

While this film isn’t the amazing, jaw dropping experience that was Box Trolls or Book of Life, it does bring a lot of heart, fun and originality to a fairly predictable formula.  So yea, you may have seen this story before.  But at least you can sit through it knowing that at least its a well done iteration of that time worn tale of capes & cowls. If I actually used stars, it would be a solid 4 out of 5 from me with a definite recommendation to see it at least once.  It’s more debatable whether it will be just as enjoyable on subsequent viewings (definitely will be just as quotable), so it may not be a “BUY IT DAY ONE BLU RAY NAO!” kind of flick, but definitely a go see it once. Preferably in the theaters for that big screen experience.

Frozen Treats

Disney-Frozen-Logo

So I finally got around to seeing Frozen.  Yes, you can pick your jaws up off the floor, I know it took me a while.  But I’m not a young spry chap with infinite free time that can see every animated film that comes out like I was back in college.  But those who know me know that I am a lover of all things animated, so I felt that writing a short review and sharing my thoughts on the film.  Why? Because it’s my blog.  And I have a whole category over there on the side clearly labeled “Cartoons & Anime”.  That’s why. Is that not enough?

The Premise

For those who aren’t familiar with the general plot of the story, it revolves around two sisters: Elsa and Anna. When Elsa was born she was gifted and/or cursed with magic over ice.  However, after an accident with Anna, her parents try to help her learn to control her powers. By locking her in their palace, and letting no one – not even Anna – interact with her until she has mastered her magic.  But the parents die, as they do in Disney films, and now Elsa is left as the Queen of their small but prosperous kingdom. However, during the coronation Elsa looses controls of her powers and is driven out by fear to the north mountains where she builds an ice palace in her own private idaho ice kingdom completely unaware that her actions have left the kingdom buried and frozen in a deep snow in the middle of summer. Now Anna has to try to convince her sister to thaw the kingdom.

It sounds REALLY simplistic, but actually it constantly messes with your expectations and rarely do things like this stay so simple.  Treason, treachery, trolls, and snowmen also make appearances and often not where you expect them.  I don’t want to go into much or else I’ll spoil some of the awesome of the film but the film does a great job of screwing with your typical “Ah of course it’s Disney” stereotypes and tropes.  All the way down to the ending and how the plot is resolved challenges the way you would think a film like this would play out.  Honestly, it feels more like a Dreamworks story but the classic Disney quality to it and next to zero pop culture references (Seriously, Dreamworks. Tone that **** down.)

The Visuals

Gorgeous.  That’s all I can say.  Starting back when Disney Animation put on Tangled, I think they really hit on something with the overall emphasis on using facial animation to depict emotion.  It added an energy to the characters’ expressions that you didn’t see in a lot of other CGI films.  Combining that with the enjoyably cartoony body movements and you honestly have some of the most delightful characters to watch on screen in a long time (in my opinion at least.)  That same energy is brought to bare in Frozen, emphasized on the emotional turmoil that Elsa goes through over the film and the manic pixie girl like tendencies of Anna.  It’s an animated film that’s fun to watch and re-watch just to look at all the little details that each character has in a scene.  Something I’ve missed since the later seasons of Jimmy Neutron on Nickelodeon when the animators started really having fun putting gags in the background or with characters that are not the center of focus for the audience.

Of course, I’d be called on it if I didn’t bring up the overly emphasized clipping errors that have been making the rounds on the internet.  Yes, Elsa’s hair clips through her arm at one point.  It’s not even a half second long and unless it’s been beaten into you by sites like Tumblr or wherever it’s being passed around you wouldn’t likely notice it. Honestly, I barely noticed it all even knowing it was there with all the other glorious visual being poured directly into my eye balls.  Like the ICE.

Oh geeze, if there was ever a reason to buy a Blu-Ray player, watching this movie in high definition just for the ICE is going to be worth it.  Even in theaters the fractals of ice just look gorgeous.

The Acting

Honestly, this is probably where I have the least to say.  I’ve never been a huge critic of actors.  Everyone did really well here.  That’s about all I can say.  If there were any shows stealers it would be Olaf the Snowman voiced by Josh Gad who turned in an amazingly happy over the top and blissfully innocent snowman.  Honestly, we were astonished about how darn loveable that performance was.  Kirstin Bell (Anna) and Johnathan Groff (Kristof) turn in performances with a great chemistry between the two with well timed oral jabs at each other.  Idina Menzel as Elsa was…  well that’s complicated the more I think of it.  She does the high drama moments incredibly well (Not surprising for a Broadway star) but in the less tense moments felt a tad… meh.  It may be partly because outside of the fervent emotional turmoil, Elsa doesn’t have a ton going on as a character, especially in comparison to Anna who deals with her repressed worldview, her is she/isn’t she evil relationship with her sister, and her spontaneous and insane love life.  Elsa is just a bit more of a one trick character.  But that one trick is rendered masterfully.

Other Things

You know the theory has been passed around that Elsa’s story in Frozen is very much akin to dealing with a mental illness, and more specifically depression.  As someone with a mental illness, I can say that yea. There IS a lot of that. It did strike a serious cord in parts with things I’ve experienced in my own life.  And it handles them well.  Repeated phrases like Don’t show, don’t let them know and the insistence of just trying to control it. After all how many times have someone heard “Have you tried just being happy and stop being depressed?”  The message continues with the idea that no matter how bad, or how awful, or how much damage you might unintentionally cause – there will always those who care about you. Be it family or friends.  It was a nice message that really made me feel warm fuzzies walking out of that theater and I won’t lie – I teared up more than once.  (Okay, fine I tear up at the drop of a hat. I was flat out bawling tears at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3.)

So would I recommend the film? Absolutely.  No matter how old or young you are there is something wonderful and powerful to be found in this film.  I have been beaming about it since we saw it and I don’t imagine my utter dumbfounded shock at how amazing it was will subside anytime soon.  So yes, go see Frozen. Do it.

Hard Hitting Insight from The Disney Channel

Interviewer: How is [being a broadway actor] compared to being a DJ?

Radio Disney DJ: *surprised voice* It’s SO different!

Vry: /facepalm

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