Blu-ray Review: Big Hero 6

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Following the phenomenal success of 2013’s Frozen, Disney took a hard turn into slightly riskier territory in 2014 with Big Hero 6. An adaptation of an obscure Marvel Comics series of the same name, it’s a sci-fi adventure rather than a fairy tale-based musical. Given that they own Marvel, it was only natural that Disney would rummage through their rich back catalog to find something suitable for a family-friendly animated feature. The whole gambit worked liked gangbusters, with Big Hero 6 scoring big at the box office as well as with critics. What could’ve turned into another Atlantis: The Lost Empire (an atypically action-oriented Disney animated feature that, however underrated, didn’t connect with audiences) ended up with an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Big Hero 6 3 (380x159).jpgBig Hero 6 feels a lot like Marvel-lite, with a team of young superheroes led by Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) and his inflatable robot Baymax (Scott Adsit). The futuristic hardware and fantasy environments often rival the live-action Marvel movies in terms of visual imagination. Baymax was created as a robotic healthcare device by Hiro’s brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), a star student at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. In a rather weighty opening act development, Tadashi tragically dies in a fire at the university, along with his beloved Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell).

Hiro eventually discovers there’s more to his brother’s death than initially meets the eye. Banding together with his late brother’s similarly brilliant university mates—GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller)—Hiro and Baymax seek to uncover the truth behind a mysterious villain who hijacked Hiro’s groundbreaking microbot technology. This was the project Hiro submitted as a means to be accepted at the university.

Big Hero 6 2 (380x159).jpgThere’s a bit more plot going on here than in some of Disney’s more straightforward animated features. That might make it a bit confusing for the youngest viewers, but teens and adults with a taste for comic book adventure will lap it up. Early marketing presented Big Hero 6 as sort of a Lilo & Stitch variation, with a teen boy subbing for Lilo and a puffy robot standing in for Stitch. In actuality, it’s a wholly different experience than almost anything Disney has offered before (the closest antecedents being, probably, the aforementioned Atlantis and Treasure Planet). It actually brings to mind a big-budget version of episodic comic book animation, like DC’s awesomely involving Young Justice. That said, Big Hero is tempered by a touchy-feely sensibility that keeps it grounded in the Disney tradition.

Entertaining as Big Hero 6 is, there’s one caveat worth mentioning. The altering of the original comic book’s Japanese setting (for the fictional “San Fransokyo”) and Japanese characters (some are now Caucasian, while Hiro and his brother are of mixed ethnicity) is a questionable decision. It seems Disney’s marketing department wanted to hedge their bets by blending Americanized elements with the Asian-centric roots of the story. Even so, they could’ve easily done so while maintaining the central characters’ Japanese ethnicity.

Big Hero 6 5 (380x159).jpgNo surprise to find exemplary audio/visual specs on Disney’s Big Hero 6 Blu-ray. The 1080p presentation looks every bit as eye-poppingly detailed as one would expect from a mega-budgeted Disney digitally animated film. There is a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix that is quite immersive, with powerful LFE activity. Aside from Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals,” the soundtrack is comprised of a fairly exciting score by Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class, Wreck-It Ralph, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), which is nicely showcased.

Perhaps the best special feature is the theatrically-released short film Feast (also nominated for an Oscar, Best Animated Short). Though it does, in fact, endorse poor canine feeding practices, it’s a genuinely emotional piece about a dog’s empathy for its human owners. “The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey” is a 15-minute featurette hosted by voice cast member Jamie Chung. It’s a decent, if too-brief look at the film’s creation. “Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters” is also a bit slight (under ten minutes), but gives viewers a chance to learn a little about the animators. There are a few deleted scenes, including two alternate openings. All in all, what’s here is good but Big Hero 6 fans are going to wish there was more.

Big Hero 6 4 (380x159).jpgThere’s also an easy-to-find “Easter Egg” featurette that clues viewers into some of the insider references hidden throughout the film. The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a standard DVD and Digital HD downloadable copy (iTunes compatible).

In the great Marvel tradition of “hidden” endings, be sure to watch Big Hero 6 all the way through to the very end of the end credits for a bonus scene. Let’s hope Disney is considering a sequel for Big Hero 6 as this leaves the door open for more adventures with Hiro and Baymax.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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