Set in “San Fransokyo”, an amalgam city of San Francisco and Tokyo, I was grabbed by the movie’s design sense in the first images, a pan including what I am calling “the Tori Gate Bridge.” This combination of American and Japanese elements, combined with fantasy elements such as tethered wind-turbine balloons, make a setting that is attractive and fascinating.
The protagonist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), is a 13-year-old genius who has graduated high school, but dawdling over entering college that he doesn’t see the utility of. This changes when he visits his older brother Tadashi’s robotics lab, meets his self-described “nerd” friends, and becomes motivated to get admitted to college so he can do the kinds of work they are.
Hiro’s amazing entrance project, swarming “microbots”, is lost in a fire and explosion which also kills Tadashi (Daniel Henney). When he discovers the microbots have actually been stolen, he becomes obsessed with bringing his brother’s killer to justice, and begins by upgrading Baymax, his brother’s invented health aide robot (voice by Scott Adsit).
Baymax’s concern for Hiro’s “health” causes him to bring in friends Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred, (Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, and T.J. Miller) and Hiro uses his abilities to help build super tools reflective of each one’s specialty: speed and mobility for Go Go, lasers and plasma for Wasabi, and chemistry for Honey Lemon. Slacker Fred gets a monstrous super-suit gratifying his kaiju fantasies. Together they go after the kabuki-masked mystery man who has turned Hiro’s microbots into a devastating weapon.
Although the plot is standard comic-book fare (I knew immediately who the villain had to be--), there were still some surprises. The manner in which the kids get in each other’s way when fighting the foe is both realistic and refreshing, and Fred’s ongoing comic-informed commentary on “origins” and “revenge plots” does a lot to subvert the tropes in an amusing fashion. The blended city background is gorgeous, and the character animation effective and pleasing. (I thought there was more than a little well-done Miyazaki homage, particularly in the ominously flowing black mass of microbots. Such visions are frequently seen in Studio Ghibli movies.) Good voice characterization by all the actors and I thought the cartoonish character designs were distinctive and worked well.
Definitely the most enjoyable film we have seen this holiday season. Good for most ages, although as with most action movies, combat scenes may be too intense for younger children, and some images are scary.
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