After lagging behind other studios in computer-animation for years, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ winners in recent times include 2008’s “Bolt,” 2010’s “Tangled,” 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph” and last year’s megahit musical “Frozen.”
But “Big Hero 6,” the new computer-animated project from Disney, is a misstep. For all of its technical marvels — including impressive detail in sets, epic flight sequences and a vast yet intricate cityscape — “Big Hero 6” misses the point. Emotion and characterization take a back seat to action.
The earlier “Wreck-it Ralph” contains lots of action, but that film soars most of all through its poignancy and the relationships shared by its characters. “Frozen” features a classic Disney storytelling mix of fun, tragedy and romance, not to mention two princesses and a horde of charming, nonhuman creatures.
The Marvel Comics-based “Big Hero 6,” set in the slightly futurist, hybrid city of San Fransokyo, holds only hints of the qualities that make Disney’s best animation gloriously entertaining and deeply moving.
The story’s hero, 14-year-old Hiro Hamada (voice by Ryan Potter), and his big brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), live with their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in busy San Fransokyo. Tadashi and Hiro are both into robotics, big time.
Tadashi studies at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology with one of the robotics field’s great figures, Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). Hiro, on the other hand, a genius who graduated from high school at 13, spends his time building robots for “bot fights,” as the underground competitions are called.
Tadashi wants his brother to take a more productive path. If Hiro can impress Professor Callaghan, he can gain early admission to the Institute of Technology. With that goal in mind, Tadashi introduces moody underachiever Hiro to his friends and fellow students at the institute. This mostly nerdy bunch consists of neatness- and rules-obsessed Wasabi; the spindly, bespectacled Honey Lemon; cool-girl GoGo Tomago; and neo-hippie dude Fred. Hiro wants to join the team.
But then a tragic fire destroys the institute and Hiro becomes an investigator. He finds a great ally in the mission in Baymax, a personal healthcare companion robot created by Tadashi.
When Hiro meets Baymax (voice by Scott Adsit), he says the inflatable robot resembles a marshmallow. Pillsbury Doughboy and Casper the Friendly Ghost are apt descriptions, too, for the sweet-natured Baymax. The robot’s attention to detail and dedication to the welfare of humans qualifies as saintly.
But Hiro and Baymax’s relationship — and a large part of the movie’s potential for moving audiences — are pushed aside. After Hiro upgrades the robot to superhero powers, the two of them spend long, quickly numbing sequences soaring above the streets of San Fransokyo and battling a mysterious villain. By the time Hiro and the noble Baymax do summon emotion, “Big Hero 6’s” 90 minutes are all but over.