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 24: The Fox and the Hound

A Film Full of Complex Relationships

Tod and Copper

Originally Released: 1981

To begin with, I’ll just get this out of the way: The Fox and the Hound isn’t my favorite Disney film. I find the overall plot to be somewhat lacking. I believe the songs are so bad that it would have been better if the film were a non-musical and the songs were completely scrapped. Finally, I can’t stand the birds-chasing-the-worm sideshow. Those three characters annoy me and add nothing to the experience. But that being said, The Fox and the Hound does have a major redeeming quality, which is the thought put into the five major characters and the relationships they have with each other.

The five main characters in this film include the fox Tod, and Copper the hound dog, along with Copper’s canine mentor Chief, his human master Amos Slade, and the widow Tweed, Slade’s neighbor who adopts the orphan Tod. In a bit of a departure from the Disney norm, none of these characters can be judged as being either good or evil. They all have strengths and weaknesses which are put to the test during the events of the film.

"Wait, Widow Tweed isn't all good? How can you say that!" Well, I would be pretty frustrated if someone shot up my car and accused me of being a liar. And look at that smile on her face just after doing the evil deed...there's definitely some amount of vileness in the woman.

“Wait, Widow Tweed isn’t all good? How can you say that!” Well, I would be pretty frustrated if someone shot up my car and accused me of being a liar. And look at that smile on her face just after doing the evil deed…there’s definitely some amount of vileness in the woman.

The first relationship of note is that of Tod and Copper. Tod, thrust from his natural fox lifestyle through no fault of his own, is completely ignorant of the “societal norm” which says that foxes and hunting dogs don’t get along. He is able to befriend Copper, who at the time is equally ignorant about the way things are “supposed to be.” However, their friendship is tested when Copper is trained to hunt. Like most good friendships, they have their rocky moments, but they do prove to be loyal to each other. The human parallels and the message of this relationship are obvious.

Chief (voiced by Disney veteran Pat Buttram in what has to be his most tolerable performance for the studio) initially isn't too thrilled by the new recruit, but soon warms up to him.

Chief (voiced by Disney veteran Pat Buttram in what has to be his most tolerable performance for the studio) initially isn’t too thrilled by the new recruit, but soon warms up to him.

Another interesting relationship is between Chief and Copper. Chief likes Copper and is a great mentor to him, but at the same time he has to deal with the frustrations of being replaced by Copper as the more capable performer during the hunts. Nevertheless, despite some inner turmoil, Chief continues to teach Copper the ways of the hunting dog. Because of this, Copper respects Chief so much that when Chief is injured when dodging a (conveniently-timed) train while pursuing Tod, Copper makes an irrational revenge vow against his old fox friend.

Additionally, there is the relationship shown between Amos and Tweed. At times they have disdain towards each other, caused both by Tod’s presence and simple misunderstandings, but these neighbors are on friendly enough terms that Tweed is willing to give aid to Amos when his leg is injured.

Just like in real life, these relationships have some complexity to them and it is not so simple to say “That’s a good guy, while this other one is definitely bad.” Amos has an outrageous temper and goes overboard in his actions, but at the same time he loves his dogs and is just trying to live his life without getting his chickens eaten or his animals killed. Copper is trying to reconcile friendship and loyalty to many different parties and has difficulty prioritizing these loyalties. Poor Tod causes all kinds of trouble in this story, but it really isn’t his fault. He never learned to properly behave either as a domesticated or wild animal and thus isn’t sure how to act in either setting.

Here is the only true villain in this film - the evil bear with the blood-red eyes. Copper and Chief using their hunting-dog instincts is complicated and we can maybe understand them. But Mr. Bear following his instincts and attacking when threatened is just cold-blooded villainy.

Here is the only true villain in this film – the evil bear with the blood-red eyes. Copper and Chief using their hunting-dog instincts is complicated and we can maybe understand them. But Mr. Bear following his instincts and attacking when threatened is just cold-blooded villainy.

The interplay between the five characters is quite thought-provoking, causing some reflection about real-life friendships and judgements we make about people. So while The Fox and the Hound may not be the strongest film in the Disney canon, I do applaud Disney’s attempt to be thoughtful and going beyond what was usually tackled thematically in its films.

When I praised thoughtful inclusions in the The Fox and the Hound, I didn't mean these clowns.

When I praised thoughtful inclusions in the The Fox and the Hound, I didn’t mean these clowns.

Week 4: Dumbo

An Example of the Soaring Heights Animation Can Reach

photo(20)

Originally Released: 1941

It seems to me that Dumbo doesn’t get as much publicity these days as some of the other Disney features. Much like the circus and the story of storks delivering babies, it is becoming a little more forgotten in today’s world. In fact, even Disney itself failed to label the film as one of its prestigious “Diamond Edition” films in its most recent release from the Disney Vault.

Whatever the reason for this lowered enthusiasm may be (if it is indeed the case), it is not because Dumbo is a lesser film than the other classics. In fact, I find it to be one of the most imaginative, relatable, and emotionally resonant stories Disney ever released. Even though the special effects and animation did not push boundaries the way Fantasia did just a year before, it nevertheless remains a showcase of what animation is capable of achieving.

One thing I love about animation is that the only limit to the stories you can tell and the things you can do is your own imagination. In animated films, you can accomplish ideas that just wouldn’t work as well in live-action. Dumbo is a great example of this. And you would be hard-pressed to find a more creative, colorful, and bizarre-yet-mesmerizing scene in any other medium than the “pink elephants on parade” sequence. So while it may not be a technical marvel, the cartoon style works very well for this film.

photo(18)

But Dumbo doesn’t only excel in its artistic creativity. It also tells a moving story that just about everyone will relate to. Dumbo is born to a loving mother, but almost immediately he is mocked and ridiculed by others for having very big ears. Like any innocent child, at first the mocking doesn’t bother him, but later he gets separated from this mother and becomes an outcast. Eventually it all gets to him and causes him great sadness.

Each of us has our own defects, our own weaknesses. Each of us at one point or another has probably felt alone, ridiculed, and like an outcast. This makes it easy for us to relate to Dumbo and feel for him.

This movie would be a complete tragedy if not for two characters:  Dumbo’s mother and Timothy the mouse. Every scene involving Dumbo and his mother is quite resonant. The animators did a masterful job on this. The love of Dumbo’s mother for her child is easily visible, and you can also see the love and trust from the child to his mother. If somebody ever tells you cartoons can’t connect emotionally with the viewer, tell them to watch this movie. The scene where Dumbo is cradled in his mother’s trunk is a real heart breaker.

photo(17)

In Timothy the mouse, we find the friend that everybody deserves to have – and that each of us ought to strive to be. It is through him that this story turns from tragedy to triumph. He quickly looks past Dumbo’s “defect” and eventually helps him to turn his handicap into a strength. It is quite inspiring, and is all the more impressive that we can learn these traits from a cartoon mouse.

These reasons give Dumbo a spot in the upper tier of the best Disney feature films. In fact, the special features on the disc show a clip where Walt Disney himself claims that Dumbo was his favorite of all the Disney films. I can’t blame him for thinking that. There is much to love in this movie.

Do not drink the water...bad, bad things will happen...

Do not drink the water…bad, bad things will happen…