At the 87th Academy Awards, Disney's animated movie "Big Hero 6" defeated popular sequels like "How to Train Your Dragon 2" from DreamWorks, the Japanese anime film "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," and various European productions, including "Song of the Sea," to win the Best Animated Feature award. The film's success at the Oscars, coupled with its super cute character designs, contributed to its impressive box office performance. Unlike Disney's previous hit film "Frozen," the studio transformed a lesser-known Marvel comic into a heartwarming animated feature, or rather, created charming and endearing animated characters.
In our general perception, robots are often depicted as powerful combat machines, much like Optimus Prime in "Transformers," following a cliché path of upholding justice and battling evil. Recognizing the audience's fatigue with conventional robot portrayals and the mismatch with Disney's heartfelt approach, "Big Hero 6" chose to reimagine the character of Baymax. Taking cues from the gentler depictions of robots in Japanese anime, the film presented a unique and tender perspective on Baymax.
"If 'How to Train Your Dragon' captivated audiences by emulating the behavior of cats, then Baymax has undergone a complete transformation, reimagined from the inside out as a universally endearing character that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. Its design makes you want to hug it or be hugged by it." While in the latter part of the film, the Marvel elements become quite prominent, with Baymax adopting Iron Man-like characteristics during battles, executing similar take-off and landing sequences, and even a cool move where he supports himself with his fist upon landing. However, the successful grafting of this American superhero and Japanese aesthetics is commendable. It caters to both children and parents, as well as Western and Eastern audiences who find familiar elements in the film. It demonstrates that combining cool action with adorable characters is Disney's way of achieving the "1+1>2" effect following their acquisition of Marvel.
Most of the negative feedback about "Big Hero 6" mainly centers around criticism of its clichéd plot and excessive sentimentality. But it must be acknowledged that Disney's attention to detail is filled with clever and humorous touches. Just like how Olaf's "I like summer!" line in "Frozen" was hilarious, Baymax's penguin-like waddling in "Big Hero 6" is equally amusing. He serves as a lifebuoy in the water, can perform a tipsy tango when his battery is depleted, and even calmly tapes up his punctured vinyl when at the police station.
While the latter half of the movie, especially in the Marvel-style action scenes, may seem somewhat rushed and lacks the depth of character development, there are still many standout moments. Disney indeed excels at manipulating the audience's emotions. The theme of brotherly love runs throughout the film, especially in the part where Baymax plays the video of Hiro's late brother to prevent Hiro from succumbing to anger. This scene evokes a deep sense of warmth.
The film shifts its setting from the original Japanese location to a hybrid futuristic city combining San Francisco and Tokyo, known as San Fransokyo. To blend these two distinct Eastern and Western styles, the visual effects team added Japanese elements to various San Fransokyo buildings. For instance, Aunt Cass's café in the Victorian-style building is adorned with intricate lucky cat figurines and koi fish flags. Cherry blossom trees were planted in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Japanese signage and neon lights can be seen all over the streets. Each setting was meticulously designed with real-world references, making every frame a beautiful piece of artwork.
It is reported that the production team specially designed more than 80,000 buildings, 100,000 vehicles, and 700 different character models for the city. Additionally, they developed a rendering program called Hyperion, meticulously managing the transmission of light and intricate scenes with an obsession for color and realism. This dedication to visual detail might even surpass the high standards set by Hayao Miyazaki, who is renowned for his pursuit of natural beauty in animation. However, it cannot be denied that Disney's meticulous realism in depicting San Fransokyo is a sight to behold, unlike the impressionistic style of Japanese animation that reflects the protagonist's state of mind in relation to the external surroundings.
From "Frozen" to "Big Hero 6," Disney Animation Studios has received Oscar recognition twice. Looking at the entire industry, with animated characters like those from "Despicable Me" and "How to Train Your Dragon" becoming popular and having a lasting impact, Hollywood animation has gained momentum in recent years. Interestingly, in 2014, the Academy awarded a lifetime achievement award to Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. His films like "Spirited Away" and "The Wind Rises" have been nominated for or won Oscars. The debate about the strengths and weaknesses of Hollywood and Japanese animated feature films has been ongoing. Miyazaki has also criticized Hollywood's overly detailed industrial production process, noting that the "entry and exit thresholds are equally low and wide."
Setting aside disparities in artistic and narrative styles, both share a common characteristic: global inspiration. Miyazaki, while adhering to a Japanese artisan workshop approach, draws from traditional stories in Greece, Mesopotamia, Denmark, the UK, and incorporates universal values like environmentalism, bravery, and anti-war sentiments that transcend cultural and national differences. Disney, with nearly 90 years of history, consistently draws inspiration from different cultures. In the case of "Big Hero 6," the fusion with Marvel showcases the beauty of technology and the greatness of human intelligence. It places more emphasis on emotional expression than any live-action Marvel film. However, as an animated feature, Disney still has room to learn from Miyazaki in terms of how to delve deeper into the story's content beyond exquisite visuals and creative character design. And this debate will continue!