Welcome to the synergy,
folks. Disney's three big acquisitions over the past decade have been Pixar (a partner the Mouseketeers bought outright in 2006), Marvel Comics and the "Star Wars" universe. Total cost: About $15 billion. Those last two weren't just surprises, they were industry-defining purchases nobody saw coming—catching all their competitors totally flat-footed—and now Disney can count among its flock ESPN, ABC, "Toy Story," "Iron Man" and the next "Star Wars" trilogy.
Perhaps nothing, though, exemplifies what all this means to Disney as much as "Big Hero 6." While the Marvel adaptation "Guardians of the Galaxy" turned out to be the year's biggest movie so far, this film merges something from the pages of Marvel with Pixar boss John Lasseter and Disney's untouchable mix of distribution and marketing power. The perfect storm. It's not a title known to many outside the halls of your local ComicCon, but given the big November push from Mickey Mouse—it was "Frozen" this time last year—a whole lot of kids will get a whole lot of "Big Hero 6" toys this holiday season.
Beyond the bottom-line cynicism, however, there's a movie to contend with. Because "Big Hero 6" is not exactly "The Avengers" or "The Fantastic Four," the filmmakers had a little more flexibility to change some of the origin story and lay the groundwork for future films. Comic book fans should be used to movies making changes by now, so nobody will cry for them. In the film, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a super-genius teenager who loves robots. He graduated high school at 13 and over the past year, has been engaging in illegal botfighting to perfect his work. Robotics runs in the family: Hiro's late older brother, Tadashi, created Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot that looks like the Michelin Man.
Together, Hiro and Baymax must stop a mysterious villain who has stolen Hiro's mircrobot technology. What are microbots? Think of an ant colony that can build or do just about anything you direct it to. So, pretty powerful in the wrong hands. Things proceed about as you'd expect, although "Big Hero 6" mines a lot of comedy out of Baymax, who is only programmed to be a nurse but must become something far more lethal.
There are some definite misses, though. The supporting cast — the title "Big Hero 6" actually refers to five young superheroes and the robot — is mostly an afterthought, and there's not a lot of magic here, even if the animation is predictably great.
About the only thing that truly stands out beyond the animation and its 3-D presentation is the performance by Scott Adsit as the robot. He's a veteran of Second City and "30 Rock," and while a robot is obviously limited emotionally by his programming, it must still carry some human qualities if audiences are going to be sympathetic to the character. Whether it's "The Iron Giant" or "Wall-E" or this film, if you can't connect with the machine, the movie is sunk. Baymax is the most fleshed-out character in the "Big Hero 6," ironically enough, particularly funny during the drunken stupor the robot enters into when its battery is drained.
Overall, however, the movie struggles to leave its own mark. It's not as fun as "Wreck-It Ralph," it's nowhere near as accomplished as "Frozen," it's hard to see where a sequel could take it and the majority of the characters just fill space and time. But, man, is it going to sell a lot of merch.