Bonus Week: Big Hero 6

A Big Fist Bump (Badaladala) To Baymax and Co.

 flying

Originally Released: 2014

I’ve seen Big Hero 6 twice now, and will probably watch it again before too long. I have a feeling this is one film that is only going to get better with repeated viewings.

I wasn’t really planning on seeing Big Hero 6 a second time in the theaters, but when I started writing this blog entry yesterday, I realized that my memory and impressions from the first time I watched Big Hero 6 almost a month ago were a little fuzzy. I think this is mainly because that weekend I partook in a big-time movie triple-header, viewing Big Hero 6 along with Interstellar (a stellar film in its own right, and probably the most though-provoking movie I’ve seen in years) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, another masterpiece from Studio Ghibli. Seeing three extremely good movies for the first time in a two-day span is a lot of fun, but it also makes it hard to remember finer details of each one, despite them being three radically different films.

Poor butler. Only Baymax is kind enough to give the man a proper fist bump (badaladala).

Poor butler. Only Baymax is kind enough to give the man a proper fist bump (badaladala).

So in a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to head out and watch the movie again last night. In this second viewing, the things I liked the first time became more enjoyable, and the few minor gripes I had the first time mostly went away. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hiro, Go Go, Baymax, and the rest of Big Hero 6.

Story-wise, Disney does a serviceable job of the “superhero origin story” genre. There is nothing done here that we haven’t seen before, given the popularity of Spider-Man/Batman/Avengers these days.  But let’s face it – this is an animated Disney film (my first and forever true love/passion) about science and engineering (my undergraduate major and next-in-line passion), with a little sprinkling of Japanese culture, a good dose of superhero fantasy, and an emotional arc about the importance of family and friends. So even if the plot was weak (which it is not), the various elements included in Big Hero 6 would more than make up for any plot deficiencies for me. And I want to give Disney some serious props for making science and technology look just as cool as the arts.

gogo action

Thank you Disney for creating this sweet moving pic. I will happily post stuff like this on my blog and promote your film!

If I wasn’t amazed by the plot itself, there is something I was amazed by in Big Hero 6, and that is the animation and art. Disney really knocked this one out of the park both artistically and technically.

Let me begin with the artistic design. Whoever had the idea of merging San Fransico and Tokyo was a genius, because you can easily tell that the filmmakers had a heyday with that idea, creating one of the most unbelievably cool looking cities I’ve ever seen in a film. It perfectly blends the best touches of the Japanese metropolis – its bright lights, the super-cute (かわいい, or Kawaii) characters scattered around, its train transportation system, etc. – with purely San Francisco characteristics like the steep streets complete with “Full-House” homes on them, and the San Francisco cable-cars in the middle of the streets. To top it off, perhaps my favorite blending is the golden gate bridge that has been modified to contain the Japanese shinto “Torii” gateway arches atop its towers.

san fransokyo

bridge with Temple entrance arches

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in San Fransokyo?

From a technical standpoint, Disney animation is really starting to hit its stride. Earlier this year I was absolutely floored by the incredible detail and realism displayed by Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2. I thought the guys at that studio had finally done it and out-Pixar’d Pixar with technology and advancement in 3D animation and effects. Well, it turns out Disney Animation has also gone and surpassed the wizards at Pixar with Big Hero 6. It is an overall fantastic-looking film, aeons beyond the rubbish we saw in Chicken Little. The characters move fluidly, have more personality, and blend in better than ever with their backgrounds.

While all the characters in the film look great, there is one character in particular that I want to mention. Most of the characters in Big Hero 6 are highly stylized and caricatured, which method doesn’t lend itself too well in making comparisons to reality. There is, however, one exception: Aunt Cass is the most convincing human I have ever seen in a 3D animated film. The textures, lighting, physics, and movements in her hair, clothes, etc., are extremely realistic; her facial expressions are incredibly well animated; and her overall general movements, such as walking, are beyond impressive. I think Disney was going for a regular, ordinary-looking person with Aunt Cass, and wow did they deliver. It is crazy to think how far technology has come, but one quick comparison of Aunt Cass to Andy’s mom in Toy Story will show just how far we really have come in the technical side of 3D animation.

Is Cass the new standard in 3D animation technology? I think so.

Is Cass the new standard in 3D animation technology? I think so.

The next topic I want to bring up, as I often do, is the music. The score was composed by Henry Jackman. He was also responsible for the score in Wreck-It Ralph and Winnie the Pooh, and is becoming a mainstay in Disney animation. The ending credits song was provided by rock group Fall Out Boy. For the most part, the score was appropriate and did what it needed to do. It stayed in the background and let the characters and animation take the spotlight. So I’d say it was pretty good. More than “pretty good,” however, is “Immortals” by Fall Out Boy. I’ve had that song on repeat for many days post-viewing of Big Hero 6. If there was an awards category for “Most awesome credits song in a Disney film,” I think Fall Out Boy would win the award.

bad guy

“Immortal?” Nah, not even close.

BIG HERO 6

“Immortals?” Hmmm, maybe. Let’s get a sequel before we make any hasty conclusions.

belly button

“Immortals?” Baymax could just yet become immortal in Disney history.

Speaking of awards, in my opinion, Big Hero 6 gives us a new champion in the “lovable robot” category. Move over Wall-E, you have officially been dethroned. Just as in Wall-E, once again the most heartwarming, charming and caring character in a film involving robots belongs to the robot. Baymax steals every scene he in which he is involved, and he really becomes the heart of the movie by the end (though the one gripe I will direct to this film is that the ending Baymax scene was completely unnecessary and was just an attempt at emotional manipulation, as absolutely nothing would have changed to the real ending with or without the “Baymax moment”). At its core, Big Hero 6 is about love between family members and friends, and Baymax stands at the center of these themes. He is the one character that makes these messages work.

"On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my movie?"

“On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my movie?”

In conclusion, I don’t typically do scales, but since Baymax asked, and I like Baymax, I will throw out a rating this time. The first time I saw it, I would have given Big Hero 6 around a 7.5 out of 10. But after a second viewing, Big Hero 6 gets an 8.5 out of 10.  And I suspect I will probably raise it up the next time I view it, too.

best robot ever

BIG HERO 6

fly gif

To infinity, and BEYOND!

Week 52: Wreck-It Ralph

Give this Movie a Medal!

im gonna wreck it

Originally Released: 2012

2012 was a really good year for animation. When the time of the Academy Awards came around, I was quite torn over which of the five nominees was my favorite. Each was wildly different, but still extremely entertaining (for the record, the films nominated that year were Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and Pirates! Band of Misfits. If you haven’t yet, go see them. All of them). At the time, I would have been satisfied if any of the films took home the Oscar. But looking back, I think my favorite has emerged, and it is Wreck-It Ralph. Those who took the time to see this movie at the theaters were in for a real treat (and as an added bonus, the short Paperman was the best short that either Pixar or Disney had done in years, and was part of the bill!).

welcome to sugar rush

I said “in for a real treat.” Get it? treat? Sugar? ah ha…haha…ha….treat…sugar…

One common saying at the time is that Disney and Pixar kind of swapped roles when they made the films of 2012. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph felt more like the innovative, bursting-with-creative-energy Pixar films we had all grown to love, while Pixar’s Brave was a much more traditional Disney Princess fairy tale. I like that description, because it is mostly accurate when describing the films. Wreck-It Ralph is bursting with creativity and its themes and characters have as much depth and heart to them as Sully, Woody, or any other Beloved Pixar staple. Heck, the only thing really missing is a John Ratzenburger cameo voice appearance.

bowser in shock

John Ratzenburger as Bowser? Yes please!

But even sans the Ratzenburger, Wreck-It Ralph has plenty of cameos and easter eggs for any nerd to enjoy. If you like arcades or old-school video games, you will love searching through Wreck-It Ralph to find all the little references littered throughout the film. And alternatively, even if you are just a Disney fan, then the filmmakers included old Disney properties as well for those with the keen eyes. I’ve always thought the easter eggs and hidden references were fun, and Wreck-It Ralph is a goldmine of hidden references.

you win perfect

This is pure genius right here.

But films don’t survive alone on easter eggs. Luckily, the the trio of Ralph, Felix, and Vanellope von Schweetz form an extremely likable entourage. By the end of the film, you want Ralph to win his medal and get a little recognition, you want Felix to get the girl, and you want little Vanellope to be able to race and compete in her game. Wreck-It Ralph trods the familiar underdog story path, but it does so very effectively, and it serves as a great reminder about labelling people and dismissing them based on first impressions. Or, to borrow a phrase from Zangief, “Just because you are bad guy, doesn’t mean you are bad guy.”  

sweet ride

If you’ve read my Disney posts for long, you’ll know by now that I enjoy movies that are entertaining, but I especially enjoy movies that both entertain and have something good to teach. I believe that Wreck-It Ralph fits into this second category of Disney film. It is definitely funny and entertaining, but it also manages to teach  some of life’s little lessons along the way. And what better lesson to teach than that of improvement and change? Even if you’ve spent your whole life as a bad guy, you still have some hero inside of you, and you can do good things. Even if you consider yourself a glitch (weirdo), you know what? You can still do great things. Also, Felix is a goody-goody, but that’s actually presented as a good thing! I like the messages presented in Wreck-It Ralph just as much as I enjoy its entertainment value.

felix gaga

Finally, I can’t mention this film without a quick nod to the animation and artistry. The characters, the environments, the colors, and everything else are just top notch in the worlds of Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph may not have won the Oscar, but it definitely deserves a medal for its entertainment, creativity, and charm. It’s another great film this decade from Walt Disney Animation.

Vanellope mouth closed

she is cool

She’s cool.

green vs. glitch

Hulk Smash the glitch!

There are some fantastically animated worlds in Wreck-It Ralph.

There are some fantastically animated worlds in Wreck-It Ralph.

guns blazin in strawberry twizzler fields forever

“Strawberry Twizzlers Forever!”

fix it felix

Week 51: Winnie the Pooh

A Delightful Return to the 100 Acre Wood

happy ending

Originally Released: 2011

Winnie the Pooh is like coming home after a long vacation. It just has that comfortable, familiar feel to it. That is how I best describe Disney’s 2011 release and the 51st film in the Disney canon.

As I mentioned in my thoughts on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, back in the 60’s and 70’s, Pooh Bear still hadn’t caught hold in the hearts and minds of American children. Indeed, Walt Disney’s efforts can be thanked for that. But now that we are here in the 2010’s, it is very rare to find somebody who isn’t familiar with Pooh, Tigger, and the rest of the gang. They have been engrained into the very fabric of American society, no doubt helped along by countless spinoffs and television series, merchandise, books, and more that has been pushed by the Mouse Machine.

we need Hunny!

Just as Pooh’s prescription is more hunny, Disney has not been shy to push more and more Pooh on the masses throughout the years.

There has been so much Pooh over the years that it would be very easy to simply dismiss Winnie the Pooh as another pre-school cash-in attempt by Disney. However, when I heard that this was another one of John Lasseter’s “babies” and that he wanted to reach into the original books and recapture the spirit of the original film, I realized this film had some potential. And in my opinion, it delivers on that promise in spades. It may not have made much money in the end, but that should not diminish its worth as a Disney classic.

tigger still is great

That Harry Potter, I’ll pounce the guy! No, Tigger, no you won’t…

[Small side rant time: you can blame the geniuses in the Disney marketing department for thinking Winnie the Pooh was somehow a “Summer Blockbuster” and releasing it on the same day as the grand finale of the Harry Potter film series – yeah, like that was going to end well! This movie screams “Christmastime release,” and how they managed to kill its profit potential from the get-go by releasing it next to Harry Potter – only to be followed by Captain America the very next week – is truly baffling. There is an interesting theory laid out by my friends over at Rediscovering the Magic with Rick and Friends – check it out. I kind of believe their theory on this one.]

So back to the feeling of coming home. To illustrate this point, I’ve decided to look back at my review of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and look at specific points I made as to why I love that movie, and see if they still apply to this new adventure in the 100 Acre Wood.

whoops owl

Point #1: The collection of characters. 

In my thoughts on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, I said “There is such a variety of personalities on display here, and each character plays extremely well off of the others.”  This is still very much the case, and each character has its flaws on full display in Winnie the Pooh. In fact, I’d say that they are even more pronounced in the 2011 film than they were back in the original film, which is a great thing. Tigger is exhuberant as ever, Owl is still a know-it-all, and so forth. These characters are classics, and they continue on with their lovable traits here. Most importantly, though, their friendship still outweighs whatever flaws each character may have, and they manage to band together as a team and show a good example to children everywhere.

honey honey honey

Point #2: The storybook aspect

I loved the way the original film let you read along with the action and had characters interacting with words and letters on the page, hopping from one illustration to the next, and conversing with the narrator. This tradition is still very much the case in Winnie the Pooh. And it still causes me to smile and laugh.

cliche but still works

Point #3: The sense of humor and witty wordplay

The sense of humor, especially the wordplay, was probably my favorite thing about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I imagine this would be the most difficult thing to replicate, because humor is a very tricky thing, especially since several decades have passed from one film to the next. Yet to my delight, Winnie the Pooh delivers the smiles and the laughs, and manages to include the witty wordplay of the original film. The exchange between Owl, Pooh, and Eeyore about “issue vs. Achoo,” Piglet and his “not/knot” and, of course, the problems with reading/spelling leading to the Backson are all great and quite funny.

To me, Winnie the Pooh isn’t so much a sequel as it is an extension of the adventures in the 100 Acre Wood, with all its charm. If you ignore the obvious changes in animation technology, the widescreen presentation, and other advancements, I think you really could include Winnie the Pooh as an additional story in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and not really miss a beat. Winnie the Pooh has the consistency with the original where it counts the most. Winnie the Pooh feels like home.

the gang

bakson

welcome back

 

Week 50: Tangled (With Frozen Comments, Too)

Disney’s Greatest Triumph of This Millennium?

Tangled meaningful music

Originally Released: 2010

I know, I know, my little title above is a bit of an exaggeration. There are still 986 years to go in this millennium, which means there are that many more chances for Disney to one-up Tangled. Some of you might even argue that it has already been eclipsed by a certain top-grossing animated film of all time. But I wanted to try my hand at current trends in news headlines. Feel free to supply more catchy headliners about Tangled in the comments section, by the way.

Actually, there is a reason I bring up Disney’s reigning financial juggernaut. See, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma: when I embarked on my Disney project in January 2013, there were only 52 films, which made my project make sense at the time. Now here we are, less than a month away from the debut of Disney’s 54th animated feature, and I have some decisions to make. Should I ruin my “52 weeks, 52 animated classics” theme even more by making it “100 or so weeks, 54-ish animated classics?” Or should I just stick to my original plan and close it off at 52?

I’ve decided to compromise  (i.e. cheat) a little bit by making my Tangled post double up as my Frozen assessment as well (though that still doesn’t solve how I will tackle Big Hero 6 when it comes out. Bonus Week, perhaps? Oh, and here, have a gander of the Japanese trailer to Big Hero 6 – because why not?). I actually have been wanting to say something on the matter of Frozen vs. Tangled ever since Frozen came out late last year. Unfortunately, many moons have passed, and many an internet article has already been dedicated to direct comparisons of Tangled and Frozen. But I thought of it first. And I’m going to do it anyway.

gloves are off

The gloves are off! Here comes the real fight!

I’ve thought of various categories, and I’m going to pit one film against the other in each one. It is all scientific and (mostly) unbiased, of course (I am an engineer, after all), so there will be no disputing the winner at the end of my little head-to-head matchup.

Category 1: The Title

Tangled vs. Frozen: this one is difficult: each consists of a single word, each is not even a noun, and each would not be pleasant if it happened to me. I have to say this is a tie. Except wait, the word tie, when used as a verb, would infer a future state of being tangled. So I guess Tangled wins this one.

Category 2: The Leading Lady

Leading Lady Tangled

Rapunzel, VS…

 

Anna

Anna!

This is a difficult category. On the one hand, Rapunzel has amazing, flowing magic golden hair. On the other hand, Anna’s hair displays the cruel remnants of magic gone awry. On the one hand, Rapunzel sure knows how to use a frying pan in a jam. On the other hand, Anna needs nothing but her hand to knock someone cold. I could go on, but I’ll just call this one a tie and give each film a half a point.

Category 3: The Leading Man

Flynn Rider VS...

Flynn Rider VS…

Kristoff!

Kristoff!

This one is not quite so difficult. Flynn’s got the smolder. Kristoff spits in into the wind and his girlfriend. ‘Nuff said. Tangled wins this round.

Category 4: Music

Here is another tough one. I’m not a four-year old girl, so I’m not going to default to “Let it Go” and call it a match. When considering the music and songs in these two films, there are a lot of things I’ve given consideration. Which songs are catchier? Which has more memorable songs? Which songs actually serve a good purpose in the film? When are the songs sung in the film’s running time? Are there pacing issues? Are the lyrics clever? What about the score throughout the film? What about the soundtrack when played on its own?

When it comes to catchiness alone, Frozen wins this by a long shot. The songs in Frozen also have more of a tendency to get stuck in your head, for better or worse. And yes, “Let it Go” wins bonus points just for being so darn good in the film. It is just a magnificent scene overall.

When it comes to lyrics, however, the brilliance of Alan Menken begins to shine through and catch up.

Consider, for example, the lyrics of “Mother Knows Best” and compare them to “First time in Forever.”  One sounds like it was written by a brilliant wordsmith with unlimited vocabulary, that say exactly what would help the story move forward and establish characters. “First Time in Forever” does also help the story move forward, but has lyrics like “actual real live people…it’ll be totally strange” while later on in the same song comes this gem: “which is totally bizarre.” Every time I hear that second “totally,” I can’t help but wonder if the songwriters just ran out of gas the night they were writing the song. Surely they could have come up with some other word that means the same thing, right? People may try to argue that they were trying to use words a ditzy teenage girl would use, but I’m not buying that argument.

Next, what about how the music flows in the movie? In this category, I believe Tangled takes it. Not only does it have music throughout that does a great job of pushing the story forward, it also makes excellent use of reprises, both for Rapunzel and the villain. Also, in Tangled, it doesn’t feel like all the songs were crammed into the first third of the movie.

love song

Subcategory: The Love Song. What about the love song? Do you opt for a beautiful, quiet melody, or a bombastic “High School Musical” song? Even though I like Love is an open door,” I prefer “I see the Light.” I saw Tangled in 3D when it was in theaters, and what “Let it Go” did for so many who watched Frozen, “I see the Light” did for me. I was awestruck by the scene: The 3D lanterns flowing into and out of the screen, the melody, and everything else combined to create a sweet scene in the movie.

love song Tangled

A real love song. I love it.

At this point, I’d probably give music a tie between the two films. Each has great music, a nice score, and each has its own strengths. However, I have to pull out my wild card in this scientific matchup: I have a serious music crush on Mandy Moore. Ever since “I Wanna be with You,” Mandy Moore’s voice has just melted me. Everyone has a guilty pleasure, and Mandy Moore’s music is definitely mine. Imagine my reaction when I found out that Mandy Moore would be lending her vocal talents to Disney and become the latest princess! It’s not every day your musical crush joins forces with your animation obsession. So yeah, due to the Mandy Moore factor, Tangled wins the music category.

Category 5: Horse-Like Sidekick

Maximus, the horse, VS...

Maximus, the horse, VS…

Sven, the Reindeer

Sven, the Reindeer!

Do we really need to make this comparison? Maximus wins. Tangled wins.

Category 6: Villain

villain Tangled

Manipulative, sinister, vile Mother Gothel, VS…

Villain?

Villain?

Villain?

Villain?

Give credit to Frozen for keeping us guessing. I was honestly thinking that maybe Disney would go the Studio Ghibli route and do a real villain-less movie, like Kiki’s Delivery Service or something like that. Well, in the end we got a true villain, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Mother Gothel, however, is a villain in the truest sense, hearkening back to the great Disney villains in the past. I think something can be said for having someone in your film who you can immediately root against and who makes it no secret he or she is evil. It makes the inevitable triumph of good a little more satisfying in the end. Mother Gothel has many tricks up her sleeve, and she is a master manipulator. She easily outdoes the Duke…er, Elsa…er, the Prince. Chalk another one up for Tangled.

Category 7: Non-Horse Sidekick

Pascal, VS...

Pascal, VS…

olaf sidekick

Olaf!

As charming as little Pascal is, I have to repeat my answer to my horse comparison. That is, there’s really no comparison. Olaf wins. Frozen wins.

Category 8: Supporting Cast of Merry Folk

Band of thieves with a dream (and the best jumping photo ever), VS...

Band of thieves with a dream (and the best jumping photo ever), VS…

Trolls!

Trolls!

The trolls fight valiantly and play a crucial role in Frozen, in that they are pretty much the catalyst to all the major events in the film. But the Band of thieves are so funny, and their musical number is a lot more fun than the trolls. Tangled wins this one.

Category 9: Villainous Sidekicks

These guys, VS...

These guys, VS…

These guys!

These guys!

Really, now, Disney, I feel like Frozen is just starting to copy and paste elements from Tangled. One villainous sidekick with awesome facial hair, and the other clean shaven. The goons in Tangled are more memorable, are more of a factor in the film, and are going to win this category.

Category 10: Teenage Angst

Gothel teenage angst

Scary mom with horrible advice, locked up in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out, VS…

Parents with horrible advice who later die, locked in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out - but a double dose of each!!

Parents with horrible advice who later die, locked up in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out – but a double dose of it all!!

Frozen wins this one. Two is better than one!

So there you have it, after my scientific, engineer-like comparison of the two films in ten different categories, I conclude that Tangled is basically Frozen, just slightly different and slightly better, with a final tally of 7.5 to 2.5.

mental synchronization

Don’t be sad, Frozen. You are actually quite synchronized with your older sibling film.

maximus horse sidekick

Maximus FTW!