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Review: Big Hero 6, or 6 Reasons Why This Film Is Nothing But a Modern Animated Super Sentai

"I'm scanning you for anything that might infringe on existing superhero franchises."

As the follow-up animated feature to last year's phenomenal Frozen, Disney has made sure to give us something very different from its "fairy tale princess" template. Thus we have 2014's Big Hero 6, a colourful spectacle of a superhero flick, loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same title.

Is it an awesome film? Yes, it is, by Disney standards. Its themes reach out across all age groups, making it a film the whole family can enjoy. Is it groundbreaking? Maybe. Probably in its methods of animation. I don't know. But is it fresh? Definitely not. Because Big Hero 6 is nothing more than a modern animated version of the Japanese Super Sentai genre, as evidenced by:

1. Fusion of East and West
The Super Sentai genre originated in Japan, but it couldn't have successfully crossed over to the other side of the Pacific without retaining its predominantly Japanese core elements. In order to make it appeal more to American audiences, there inevitably had to be a fusion of East and West. Hence the portmanteau "San Fransokyo", one of the more obvious clues, as well as the character and set designs, such as the city's bridge looking like the Golden Gate with unmistakeable Japanese arches.

2. Team Roster
As demonstrated in this film, the composition of Super Sentais almost always follow a specific formula, such as

  • A five-member roster, popular examples of which are Voltes V, Bioman, Voltron, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and Captain Planet (yes, I would argue that Captain Planet qualifies as Super Sentai);
  • A group composition of three (3) males and two (2) females, popular examples of which are the ones mentioned above, with the exception of Voltes V and Voltron, which have only one hot, kick-ass female on the team.

3. Team Composition
The team members are almost always made up of:

  • 1 Cool guy - Usually the leader of the team. In this film, Fred (TJ Miller) is the cool guy, but he serves as the film's comic relief instead of the leader.
  • 1 Little guy - Usually the brainiest in the group. In this film, the little guy is Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who serves as both the brains and the leader of the group.
  • 1 Hulk - Usually the biggest and the strongest in the group. In this film, it's Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.).
  • 1 Tomboyish Girl - Usually the less prettier of the two girls. In this film, it's GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), though I find her more attractive than the other girl in the group. In a cartoon-y kind of way, of course.
  • 1 Ethnic Minority Girl - Usually the less dominant of the two. In this film, it's Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez). Though she may stand physically taller, it's GoGo who has the stronger character. Honey Lemon's ethnic background is emphasised by the annoying way she says "Hiro" with a Latina accent.

Not on this list: One (1) robot, who is either the team's assistant, or the team's mecha fighting machine. In this film, it's Baymax (Scott Adsit), who performs a little of both roles as the team's medic and as Hiro's flying fighter robot.

In this scenario, Captain Planet would be the robot.

4. Character Names
Despite speaking in American West Coast accents, the characters of Big Hero 6 have unmistakeable Japanese origins. The brothers Hiro and Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney), GoGo Tomago, and even the dreadlocked Wasabi all have Japanese-sounding names. I think even the robot Baymax was named after the Betamax, the Japanese counterpart of the West's VHS.

5. Colours... Lots of It
The Super Sentai genre makes liberal use of colours, primarily to differentiate between team members who fight in identical costumes. Although the characters in this film are distinguishable from one another even in full battle gear, the art department made sure to use an extensive palette in the character designs, because let's face it–nobody wants to see a monochromatic Super Sentai flick. Colour is encoded into the Super Sentai DNA. That's just the way it is.

6. Character Secret Identities
The fact that they fight evil as a team puts them on the same level as a superhero group. Since they live normal lives as university geeks, then that means their Super Sentai personas must be separate from their real world alter-egos. Even the villain in the kabuki mask hid his face. The whole world of Super Sentai revolves around secrecy, which necessitates the need for costumes, masks, and helmets.

There are some who insist that Big Hero 6 will be a standalone film, but this film ended with so much breathing room, and Disney has a habit of bleeding franchises dry (hello, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lion King) that it's quite possible that they might throw in a sequel. And if you've stayed after the entire end credits sequence, you'll know what to expect.

A sequel? Yes, please.

If given the chance, watch this film in 3D. I only got to watch the 2D version, but I'm thinking of seeing it again, if only for the preceding short Feast, which I'm pretty sure looks awesome in 3D.

Big Hero 6. USA. 2014.

Original rating: 7.5 / 10
Character design: + 0.1
Set design: + 0.1
Alan Tudyk voicing another villain: + 0.2
Aunt Cass: + 0.15
Dramatic moments: + 0.1
Final rating: 8.15 / 10

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