Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

*Review based on the Playstation 4 version*

Is it possible to love half a game? Or to half-love a game? Because I think that might describe my feelings for Kingdom Hearts 3. I honestly can’t remember the last time a game had me grinning from ear to ear and feeling like a kid on Christmas one minute, and then leave me aggravated and annoyed like an adult at the DMV the next. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that made me feel so emotionally polarized.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is the long-awaited “third” installment in the main Kingdom Hearts series, arriving thirteen years after Kingdom Hearts 2. Of course, considering how every handheld “spinoff” entry in the series that was supposedly intended to whet the appetite of fans in the interim between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3 are all part of the main story, Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t really Kingdom Hearts 3 at all. It’s more like Kingdom Hearts 9. And that kind of takes away a little something from the long-awaited experience.

Even from the game’s opening moments, it doesn’t feel like the thirteen-years in the making trilogy capper it should be, but just another random episode in a series. In fact, if it weren’t for the game’s final stage (which somehow simultaneously rushes plot resolutions and drags things out at the same time), you’d probably never even think Kingdom Hearts 3 was serving as the end to the storyline that began with the series’ first entry.

Kingdom Hearts is, of course, Square-Enix’s crossover franchise which sees original characters created by Final Fantasy alumni Tetsuya Nomura travel across the different worlds of classic Disney films. The series also used to boast the occasional Final Fantasy character, but that aspect has been dropped  almost entirely for this ‘third’ entry (sans for the Moogle shop, and a few cameos via constellations in the stars. No, not even Sephiroth returns as a super boss).

It’s the Disney half of the game which is the half I love. As a particular fan of Disney’s recent animated films and those of the Pixar brand, Kingdom Hearts 3 is especially enticing in this regard, as Disney’s recent animated output and Pixar films are what Kingdom Hearts 3 really emphasizes this time around with its Disney-themed worlds.

There are seven primary Disney worlds featured in Kingdom Hearts 3 (plus the traditional, optional Winnie the Pooh world, which focuses on mini-games), five of which fall into the modern Disney and Pixar categories: Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Tangled, Frozen and Big Hero 6. The additional two Disney worlds are based on Hercules (which has been present in all three ‘main’ Kingdom Hearts titles) and Pirates of the Caribbean (specifically At World’s End, a movie I actually very much enjoy despite its general reception). Additionally, the game’s best side quest involves Sora and company seeking out ingredients and making new recipes for Remy from Ratatouille.

Even though it’s a smaller lineup of Disney worlds than some of the previous games, Square was clearly aiming for quality over quantity. And in that sense, they nailed it. This is the best lineup of Disney films the series has represented. And it’s within this Disney fan service that Kingdom Hearts 3 is at its very best.

There’s an inescapable delight every time you enter a new Disney world and Sora, Donald and Goofy interact with characters and events from the films. Many of these characters even have their original voice actors from their respective movies (the cast of Frozen, Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, James Woods as Hades, and the perennial John Ratzenberger as Hamm are particular highlights). Of course, this also means when a character doesn’t have their original actor, it does kind of stick out like a sore thumb (I’m looking your way, Pirates of the Caribbean world).

If you’re a Disney fan – particularly a fan of modern Disney, such as myself – it’s impossible not to have a smile beaming across your face during many of the game’s Disney-centric moments. Naturally, seeing Frozen’s Let It Go recreated for the game stands out as my favorite, but you also get the lantern scene from Tangled, get to ride on the endless door conveyor belt from Monsters, Inc., and fly around San Fransokyo atop of Baymax. It’s moments like this when Kingdom Hearts 3’s many flaws wash away and you can simply bask in the charm of the Disney worlds.

With that said, the game often bungles what should be easy fan service. In both the Tangled and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds, their unique party members (Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in Tangled, Jack Sparrow in Pirates) seem to repeatedly leave your party at every other turn, leaving them feeling underutilized (particularly in Tangled’s case, as Rapunzel no longer joins you if you revisit the stage after its story is done).

In perhaps the game’s most dumbfounding (or hilarious) creative hiccup, the Frozen world doesn’t see Elsa or Anna join Sora’s party, but Marshmallow the snowman (geez, they couldn’t even make it Olaf). Some might say they were trying to do something unexpected, but that seems like the wrong place to do it. Wouldn’t getting an unexpected party member in a returning world like Hercules or Pirates make more sense? They have access to the most popular animated film in history, and don’t fully utilize the main characters? Is it a joke? Especially seeing as Rapunzel – who barely seems to join your team at all – is the only female party member you get in the game, it makes Elsa and Anna’s omission even more baffling still.

Another disappointment with the utilization of the Disney brands is in the boss fights. In past Kingdom Hearts titles, you would at least battle against a fair amount of Disney villains. In Kingdom Hearts 3 there are only three boss fights against Disney characters: The Titans in the Hercules world, Marshmallow in Frozen (they’re certainly getting a lot of mileage out of Marshmallow, it seems), and Davy Jones in Pirates. You can’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have added a few more.

The non-Disney half of the equation is as clunky as ever. What’s even worse is how the game seems to reinforce the idea that the Disney stuff isn’t important, and only Tetsuya Nomura’s characters actually mean anything in the grand scheme of the Kingdom Hearts mythos. Nomura’s original creations simply don’t have any of the likability of the Disney characters with whom they often share the screen.

Even after all these years, Sora remains the atypical “anime boy doofus” character you’ve probably seen a thousand times over in other sources. The villainous Organization XIII consists of one-note, entirely interchangeable bad guys (with the game almost self-awarely reinforcing this when the Organization starts swapping out some members for other characters). Sora’s love interest, Kairi, still amounts to little more than a damsel in distress. Riku is the archetypal ‘rival’ who flirted with the dark side. There are other Keyblade wielders thrown into the mix without any real purpose to be in the story at this point. There are clones of characters. Clones of clones. Characters who aren’t clones but look exactly like other characters. There are even characters who share the same name as other characters!

Yes, it’s sad to admit that instead of learning from past mistakes, Nomura has instead doubled-down on them (whether through stubborn arrogance or blissful ignorance, I’m not sure). Instead of developing the core set of main characters, Nomura just kept adding more and more players throughout the series. This has left his original characters with about as much depth as a shallow puddle.

As stated, the Disney element has also suffered from this abundance of characters, with the different Disney casts being shoved to the side as the game constantly reminds us how unimportant they are. In one telling moment, an Organization XIII member discovers that the Dead Man’s Chest from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is not the macguffin he’s after, and immediately disregards it. Yep, that key item from the second and third Pirates movies is merely scoffed at by just another one of the original villains. It almost feels like Kingdom Hearts is now embarrassed of its crossover element at times.

The plot of the game and its characters would feel infinitely smoother if it made the Disney characters feel important to the narrative. Organization XIII alone would be a far more memorable villain group if some Disney and Final Fantasy villains were in its ranks (seeing as they’re established characters, you wouldn’t have to take time with introductions and getting to learn their personalities, thus leaving room to flesh out the original characters that are present). It seems like it should be obvious. You have a big crossover with Disney and Final Fantasy, why not make those aspects of this mythology feel like they mean something? But one is (admittedly delicious) dressing, and the other is barely existent anymore.

Suffice to say, the narrative of Kingdom Hearts 3 is a bit of a mess, with its only real charm stemming from the Disney characters and moments it borrows. But how is Kingdom Hearts 3 as a game?

For the most part, it’s pretty fun. The gameplay is primarily separated into two halves. The first half sees players control Sora, with Donald and Goofy serving as permanent teammates, and each Disney world coming with one or two teammates of their own (for a nice change, you no longer have to swap Donald or Goofy out of the party to make room for the new guys). The gameplay is predominantly a hack-N-slash RPG, with Sora and company hacking away at hordes of Heartless and Nobodies. The D-pad cycles through quick menus, allowing you to use items, cast spells and other such actions. In terms of control, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels a lot like its predecessors, which means it’s quick to get into if you’re familiar with the series, but also means some of the controls feel stuck in the PS2 era.

Sora’s jumps still feel a bit clunky, and cycling through those “quick menus” may not be as quick as one might hope once you start unlocking more abilities and options. If you found the combat of the past games to be a little repetitive, you may find that to be the case here as well. But there are a few new additions to the gameplay that may win you over.

Some may lament that Sora can no longer change into different forms like in Kingdom Hearts 2, but there’s been a fair trade in that the different Keyblades you acquire can change forms instead. By chaining together combos, your currently equipped Keyblade can temporarily transform into a new weapon, giving Sora new moves, altering spells, and boasting a powerful finisher.

Other abilities can be utilized by performing combos as well. Do enough moves when standing next to a teammate, and you can perform a special move with them. Chain together enough spells, and you can perform more powerful versions of said spells. And in one of Kingdom Hearts 3’s best new additions, defeating certain marked enemies during a combo will allow you to summon an “Attraction.” As the name implies, Attractions are vehicles based on Disneyland rides that work like transformations for all three main heroes.

The only issue I have with these different abilities is that they’re all used by pressing the same button (Triangle on PS4). You can cycle through the temporary abilities you currently have available (L2 on PS4), but in the heat of battle it can get confusing and you’ll often use a different ability than the one you wanted. But they do help keep combat fresh.

The other half of the gameplay are the Gummi Ship sections, and this is where Kingdom Hearts 3 has greatly improved on its predecessors.

Players travel between worlds aboard their Gummi Ships (and can do so freely, should they so choose). Whereas past entries placed the Gummi Ships in fixed rail stages that, frankly, weren’t very good, Kingdom Hearts 3 instead boasts three different sandbox worlds set in outer space.

Players are free to fly about the galaxy at their leisure, can fight enemies and bosses, and find hidden treasures. Most treasures consist of more Gummi Ship parts, as players can create their own vessels, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts style. The more you do in space, the stronger your Gummi Ship becomes, and the more options you have available when creating new ships.

For a nice change of pace for the series, the Gummi Ship sections actually feel like a worthy and complimentary alternative to the main game. I found myself willingly spending entire play sessions just in the Gummi Ship portion of things.

“The A113 gag is a nice touch.”

In addition, there are more than a few side quests in Kingdom Hearts 3 that will keep players occupied outside of the main story. Along with helping Remmy create fine cuisine, the Disney themed stages all host a myriad of Hidden Mickeys (referred to as “Lucky Emblems” in the game). By taking photographs of these Lucky Emblems, the player can unlock secret items and abilities (naturally, the camera can also just be used to goof off as well). And a number of worlds feature their own mini-games where the player can once again unlock bonuses and earn high scores.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a beautiful game to look at. As usual, Square-Enix provides some of the cleanest looking cut scenes in gaming. But the real visual delight of the game is how accurately the developers have captured the look and feel of each different Disney world and the styles unique to them.

Perhaps Kingdom Hearts 3’s most consistently great element is its music. Once again composed by Yoko Shinomura, Kingdom Hearts 3 combines her unmistakeable style with renditions of classic Disney themes in addition to original compositions. Even when other aspects of the game seem to be pushing the Disney element to the sidelines, Shinomura’s terrific score brings it to the forefront, while also creating its own identity.

In the end, it’s hard to say that Kingdom Hearts 3 lived up to the thirteen year buildup. And if you weren’t a fan before, it may leave you wondering what all the fuss was about to begin with. The story aims for emotion but never resonates, due to the lack of substance in the characters (an obvious product of the fact that there’s just too damn many of them). The gameplay is decent, but lacks polish in a number of areas. And despite the franchise’s biggest selling point being its status as a Disney crossover, Kingdom Hearts 3 often comes across as dumbfounded as to how to make that crossover mean anything.

“Why can the loading screen give me what the game itself can’t?”

Yet, despite all the complaints, I’m still happy I played it. The gameplay is solid enough in its own right, complimented by the vastly improved Gummi Ship segments. Best of all are the Disney worlds themselves. Though they could have (and should have) been better implemented, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a persistent glee in my heart simply by running through these worlds, meeting the characters, and seeing iconic scenes recreated. Some might say I’m just a Disney fan who fell for Nomura’s bait and switch. But hey, when the bait is this enticing, can you blame me?

But seriously, next time have Elsa join my team.

 

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More On Why Today’s Disney is Better Than 90s Disney

big-hero-6-2

Some spoilers ahead!

I already wrote a blog about why the Disney animated films of today are superior to the Disney animated films of the 1990s, but I realize I mostly talked about how the newer Disney films are more unique, whereas the 90s Disney films were all pretty much the same. One thing I briefly mentioned but feel I should have gone into more detail is the fact that the modern Disney films also trump the 90s Disney movies in terms of thematics. In fact, this is probably one of the areas in which today’s Disney movies best their 90s counterparts the most (this, and better all around scripts and character development).

I know, I’m already the archenemy of every 90s kid from that first paragraph alone. But I’m not trying to stomp all over anyone’s childhood. After all, I grew up with the “Disney Renaissance” myself. But nostalgia, while a beautiful thing, can sometimes be blinding. We often hold our favorite movies and shows from our childhoods on a pedestal, no matter how well they may or may not hold up. We often dismiss newer things – even those made by the same artists who made the things we loved as kids – on the sole grounds that they aren’t those same things we loved as kids. Objectively speaking, I find that Disney’s more recent films tell far more meaningful and beautiful stories than the entertaining but cliched 90s Disney films.

Now, that’s not to say that the Disney Renaissance films didn’t have their messages. Some of them had good themes going for them. But their messages were very simple, and didn’t delve particularly deeply into thematics. Even The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the most thematically rich of the Disney Renaissance films of the 90s, wore its themes on its sleeve. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King similarly had good intentions, but never really dug deep.

The Little Mermaid

Then there are the Disney Renaissance films whose stories haven’t aged well at all. Case in point: The Little Mermaid.

Yeah, I’m really the bad guy now. Look, The Little Mermaid is still an entertaining movie for the songs, fun characters and colorful animation, but the actual message of the movie has aged like curdled milk. It’s the usual “love conquers all” story found in virtually all of Disney’s older movies, but its idea of love is based solely on the physical attraction between Ariel and Prince Eric. Ariel “falls in love” with Prince Eric based solely on the fact that he’s the best looking guy she sees. She is even willing to abandon her life and family to be with the guy, just because he’s hot. She goes so far as to change her physical appearance to be with him. Do either of them learn a lesson in the end and love each other for who they are? Nope. Ariel ends up changing herself again in the end, and she does in fact abandon the life and family she had all because, once again, Eric is the most handsome guy around. Even though the movie is still fun, I can’t exactly say it has a good message for kids.

Beauty and the Beast had things a bit more figured out, as it actually takes some time and interaction for Belle and the Beast to fall in love. It has the whole “inner beauty over outer beauty” theme going for it, as the Beast only becomes a handsome prince after he manages to earn someone’s love, and love them in return. So it was a big step in the right direction, but it’s still pretty simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity, but when you consider the deeper layers of the narratives in the contemporary Disney movies, it becomes clear that the Disney filmmakers are now working on a whole other level.

Anna and Elsa

Frozen is the best and most obvious example, and is probably the most allegorical narrative Disney has ever made. It’s been interpreted as having themes about mental illness, coming to terms with one’s sexuality, depression, religious allegory, even about misunderstood artists (think of Elsa like Vincent Van Gogh). When was the last time a Disney film could be interpreted in different ways, let alone about adult subjects like depression?

It’s the subtlety within Frozen’s narrative that gives it such versatile themes for adults as well as children. It still has princesses and singing and romance, but its princesses actually feel like real people (Anna is socially awkward, Elsa is depressed), the songs often have thematic depth of their own and don’t just simply explain the plot, and it understands that romance and physical attraction do not equal love. In fact, Disney’s traditional idea of romance is outright written off as foolish in Frozen, and it’s the love between sisters that is at the heart of the movie.

Another good example is Disney’s most recent film, Big Hero 6, which primarily deals with the hardship of losing a loved one. Now, this is not unfamiliar to Disney, since it seems the studio is always killing off family members of the characters in their movies. But every other Disney movie that dealt with death seemed to do so for either the convenience of plot, the token “sad moment” or to teach that the people we lose aren’t gone so long as we keep their memory in our hearts. Don’t get me wrong, keeping a loved one’s memory in your heart is a great message in its own right, but it doesn’t actually deal with the pain of loss. Big Hero 6 acknowledges this, and Hiro bluntly points out that keeping someone in your heart doesn’t mean that the loss doesn’t hurt.

"There there."

Big Hero 6 is a movie about how Hiro deals with the death of his brother. Hiro at first seems lost, and when he finally seems to rebound and seek justice for his brother’s death (by forming a super hero team, naturally), he’s secretly planning vengeance, as he’s still very much angry and confused about the loss of his brother Tadashi. It’s through the love and support of his friends and family (and his brother’s robot) that he comes to learn to live up to what his brother would have wanted and become a better person. While other Disney movies give the message that simply remembering someone will make everything better, Big Hero 6 understands that how you choose to live your life determines how you handle tragedy. Loss is always devastating, and if you allow it, such tragedy can outright destroy you. You can’t let tragedy define who you are. Big Hero 6 is wise enough to know that remembering someone is only part of the healing process, and Hiro ultimately uses his brother’s memory as inspiration to do good for himself and others.

Some might say that The Lion King told something similar, but it’s really too simple to make a proper comparison. Lion King does have good intentions, with a message about facing responsibility. Though its themes often get lost in misplaced humor and its insistent melodrama. Sure, Simba learns to take his father’s place on the throne, but only after he receives a convenient vision in the clouds telling him to do so. And it overall feels more about Simba defeating Scar and becoming king than it does about him coming to terms with his father’s death. It only deals with the subject in a minimal way, whereas Big Hero 6 thrives on the thematics.

Even Wreck-It Ralph tells a great story about accepting those who are different. The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, while less thematically deep than Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, still made great attempts at adding more details to the characters, their interactions, and their developments. By comparison, the 90s Disney Renaissance films more or less kept recycling the same character archetypes (rebellious hero rising to the occasion, the villain who’s bad for the sake of bad, etc.) and by extension they basically just retold the same story.

Again, I’m not trying to write off the 90s Disney films entirely. They are entertaining movies. I just feel Disney is finally upping their game and making movies that are more than just entertaining. They are finally feeling grown up and deep while also retaining all their fun qualities. Disney is finally making animated films that can be discussed for their artistic qualities and not just their entertainment value and technical craft. It seems the likes of Pixar and Studio Ghibli have inspired Disney to finally tell stories that are more than what they are on the surface.

Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing. I myself am pretty sentimental when it comes to the subject, but I feel a lot of people, Disney fans in particular, allow it to prevent them from seeing the qualities in newer things. It baffles me when people act upset that Frozen is more popular than their childhood favorites (heaven forbid today’s children enjoy something from their time) or when they dismiss something like Big Hero 6 or Wreck-It Ralph as being “inferior” to the Disney movies of the 90s. They should be happy that Disney is thinking on deeper levels with their narratives and providing children with meaningful stories. That doesn’t take away people’s fond memories of The Little Mermaid or The Lion King, so why act like these newer Disney movies are encroaching on them? Why not be happy that Disney has found a newfound success by providing these new, heartfelt stories?

I know if I ever have kids, I’d much rather they look up to the likes of Anna, Elsa and Hiro than a character like Ariel. That doesn’t mean that movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King don’t have their place, but there’s a difference between appreciating the past and being stuck in it. I’m glad that Disney is finally looking forward.

In Defense of Big Hero 6’s Oscar Win

*Caution! Some spoilers follow.*

Big Hero 6

It seems Big Hero 6’s Oscar win for Best Animated Feature has been met with a lukewarm reception. While most agree that it’s a good movie, it seems a lot of people are still boohooing at the snubbing of The Lego Movie, or claiming that How to Train Your Dragon 2 “should have” won. I find this to be grossly unfair, because while I personally think The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was the most deserving winner (I named it as my favorite film of 2014), I have no qualms with Big Hero 6 taking home the gold. Big Hero 6 is a wonderful movie, and a more worthy winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar than a number of past recipients.

 

Again, I was primarily rooting for Princess Kaguya (heaven knows Isao Takahata is well overdue for an Oscar), but I still consider Big Hero 6 to be one of 2014’s best films – animated or otherwise – and it follows Frozen’s lead in adding more character development into Disney’s filmmaking process. As far as I’m concerned, it told a better story than The Lego Movie or How to Train Your Dragon 2.

 

I’m pretty much the only person out there who didn’t care for The Lego Movie, as I found it overly snarky and more than a little bit full of itself. Not to mention it followed just about every trope it so readily mocked. Suffice to say I didn’t lose any sleep over its snubbing. Meanwhile, How to Train Your Dragon 2, while good, suffered from the same overly-predictable nature of the first film in the series. It did boast one daring creative decision in killing off a character who appeared in both films, which gave the film some emotional weight, but otherwise the story went pretty much everywhere you expected it to at every turn (the entirely uninteresting villain didn’t help, either).

 

Big Hero 6 did have its own predictable elements, with a plot twist involving its villain being a bit obvious. But when we find out the villain’s motivation, he suddenly becomes a more complex and interesting character who adds something extra to the story. By comparison, Dragon 2’s villain could be summed up as “I’m evil because reasons.” Although some of the supporting cast in Big Hero 6 could have done with some more fleshing out, they at least aren’t dictated by a singular punchline like those in Dragon 2. But I’m not writing this to wag fingers at Legos and Dragons, I’m writing this because Big Hero 6 is a worthy Best Animated Feature winner that doesn’t seem to be getting its due.

 

Some have cried foul that Disney has won the award too often, though Big Hero 6 is technically only the second Disney film to win the award in question. It is true that Pixar (Disney’s subsidiary) has won the award seven times (that’s half of the award’s 14-year history), which seems a bit iffy. I myself am a believer in making exception for the exceptional, but Pixar is far from the only studio capable of producing exceptional animated films, and some of their victories have seemed far too easy (don’t get me started on Brave’s undeserved win). But Disney and Pixar are two separate creative entities, with different artists and filmmakers between them. You can’t claim that Disney’s second win is “too many” because Pixar has been handed the award a few too many times.

 

Again I’m a bit sidetracked. My point is that most people who are complaining about Big Hero 6’s win are basing their arguments on things besides the film itself. It’s been either “X-film should have won” or “Disney’s won too many times.” No one is taking into account that maybe Big Hero 6 is just a great movie. Which it is.

 

Hiro Hamada and Baymax are two of the most endearing of all Disney characters, and their relationship is one of the more unique in the Disney canon. Big Hero 6 becomes the story of Hiro coping with the death of his brother Tadashi. At first Hiro becomes depressed, then vengeful, before finally learning to live with his brother’s memory in his heart. Hiro learns to deal with the loss of his brother through his brother’s creation. There’s something really touching about this setup of a boy and his (brother’s) robot. Big Hero 6 deals with loss in a meaningful way, without it simply feeling like a means to capture that token “sad moment” like a lot of today’s animated films.

 

On top of that, we also get a fun super hero story that outdoes most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Simply put, Big Hero 6 is a film that combines a genuinely heartfelt narrative with top-notch blockbuster elements. I’ve seen the film multiple times now, and I’ve only enjoyed it more with subsequent viewings. Big Hero 6 is simply a great showcase of animated filmmaking and storytelling that ranks as one of Disney’s best animated features.

 

Of course, Big Hero 6 is no Spirited Away, The Incredibles or Frozen, but it is a worthy film to carry on their torch. It’s heartwarming, smartly-written, and a whole lot of fun. It’s an incredibly easy movie to love, and one that I’m happy to see win Best Animated Feature.

Big Hero 6 Review

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is Disney’s first animated film “inspired” by a Marvel comic, though it’s probably more of a love letter to anime than it is to Disney’s superhero subsidiary. Set in the city of San Fransokyo, Big Hero 6 has the look and feel of the robot and superhero-fueled anime and manga from the 90s.

Big Hero 6 tells the story of Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a boy genius who spends his time winning money in unsanctioned “bot fights,” after having graduated high school at an early age. Hiro’s brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) tries to persuade his brother to attend his university, where Hiro’s robotic knowledge would be more than welcome. There Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends Gogo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller). But most importantly, it’s where Hiro meets Baymax (Scott Adsit), Tadashi’s healthcare robot.

This being a Disney movie, Hiro’s happy family doesn’t last long, and soon tragedy strikes and Hiro loses his brother Tadashi. Hiro then isolates himself from his friends and family, but once Baymax comes back into Hiro’s life, it leads the two on an adventure involving the mystery of Tadashi’s death, a super villain who stole Hiro’s invention ‘Microbots’  and is using them for a villainous plot, and eventually sees them, as well as Gogo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred, become super heroes.

 

If the setup sounds a bit like your typical Marvel movie origin story, that’s because a good chunk of it is. Big Hero 6 is a tried and true super hero flick in a lot of ways, which does prevent it from reaching the heights of some of Disney’s recent filmography, but it feels more honest and genuine than most of its live-action superhero counterparts, which makes it feel much fresher than the majority of super hero movies we’re bombarded with these days.

 

Big Hero 6It’s that heart that keeps Big Hero 6 afloat. Hiro is a likable main character, and the story allows him to show a wider range of emotions than we see from most Disney heroes. Baymax is surely one of the most endearing of Disney characters, he provides humor not because he’s a character created solely for comic relief, but because he’s a robot, and he acts like a robot. Yet, because he’s a robot dedicated to helping others, he helps boost the film’s emotional center. The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is what gives Big Hero 6 its heart. Through Baymax Hiro is able to get a better understanding of his brother even after his passing. It’s a super hero movie about overcoming the loss of a loved one.

 

Big Hero 6But while Hiro and Baymax may provide character development and depth, the other four members of the titular Big Hero 6 are unfortunately less fleshed out: Gogo fits squarely into the hardcore tomboy archetype, Wasabi is uptight and prone to comical freakouts, Honey Lemon is the girly girl, and Fred is the laid back comic foil. While Hiro and Baymax are given the time and attention to win our affections and earn our sympathy, the rest of the group are exactly who their one-note introductions say they are.

Another unfortunate aspect is that some of the film’s more story focused moments seem to go by too quickly, possibly as a means to fit as many action sequences into its running time as possible. The action scenes in question are all excellently done, mind you, but perhaps with a little more time dedicated to the story the other characters could have ended up as memorable as Hiro and Baymax.

In terms of animation, it doesn’t get much better than Big Hero 6 as far as CG is concerned. There is a painstaking attention to detail at work in Big Hero 6, which makes San Fransokyo feel like a living, breathing city (and keep an eye out for slews of Disney and Marvel Easter Eggs). Additional visual treats are provided by Baymax – whose “non-threatening, huggable” appearance make him one of the most unique of movie robots – and the Microbots, which join together by the thousands to create various shapes. In terms of the film’s scope and all the visual pop within it, Big Hero 6 may be the biggest spectacle Disney has ever made.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a charming film, and a whole lot of fun. But I fear that comparison’s to Frozen (it’s immediate predecessor in the Disney canon) and The Incredibles (Disney’s “other” super hero flick) may effect it’s appeal. Those two films took their genres, and added deeper thematics and storytelling to them. By comparison, Big Hero 6 feels like a more tried and true super hero movie. A really good one, mind you. But it may end up in the shadows of the two aforementioned films for not going the extra distance. It even tries its hand at creating a twist on its villain scenario, but it’s a twist that feels immediately predictable. Compared to the surprises of Frozen and The Incredibles, Big Hero 6 falls short.

 

You can’t dismiss Big Hero 6 for not being as good as Disney’s best, though. There’s a whole lot to love about it: Marvel fans are given plenty of fan service (Stan Lee cameo and post-credits sequence included), it gives the Disney canon some diversity in style, and it’s a highly entertaining love letter to Japanese anime. It’s beautifully animated and features action scenes as good as any super movie movie. But best of all are Hiro and Baymax, who elevate Big Hero 6 to being one of the most endearing movies in Disney’s recent resurgence.

 

Big Hero 6

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Why Today’s Disney Renaissance is Better than the 90s Disney Renaissance

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6, Disney’s most recent release, has kept the House of Mouse’s current hot streak alive. This hot streak, which began in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog, is often thought of as the “modern Disney Renaissance” in reference to the original Disney Renaissance that began after The Little Mermaid and continued throughout the 90s with such beloved films as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, ending with Tarzan.

A lot of Disney fans like to think of the 90s Renaissance to be something of Disney’s golden era, untouchable by any other generation of Disney films. But recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that the current wave of Disney films not only stands up to the 90s Disney Renaissance, but betters it. Granted, the modern Disney flicks in question currently stand at six, compared to the original Renaissance’s ten films. But it terms of diversity, creativity and storytelling, these six films give the 90s Disney canon a run for their money.

 

Little MermaidOne of the main reasons the 90s Disney films were so successful, and yet so restrained, can be summed up with both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Both of which are charming movies (the former has aged in terms of its message, but the latter is still one of Disney’s finest), but Disney, looking to reclaim their former glory after their rather lackluster run in the 80s, was willing to play things safe. The Little Mermaid created the template for the generation of Disney films to follow, and Beauty and the Beast refined it. The rest, you could argue, simply replicated it. From character archetypes to story progression to the style of songs, the 90s Disney Renaissance, even with its best films, was largely unwilling to be different, or think outside of the box.

Hunchback of Notre DameArguably the sole exception to this was The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I consider to be both one of Disney’s best and most underrated animated films). Hunchback of Notre Dame took the Disney template of the time, and wrapped it around a darker narrative and adult themes. The rest of the lot, even some of my favorites (Mulan, Hercules) wouldn’t have taken the creative risks that Hunchback did.

 

But that was one movie out of ten, whereas I think all six of the current Disney wave have far more distinct identities. Sure, Princess and the Frog and Tangled may fall under some of the same tropes as the 90s generation, but they at least cared to give their princesses personalities, and they as a whole have a stronger sense of characterization than the brunt of Disney’s films. Not to mention that both Tangled and The Princess and the Frog tried to add some twists to the formula, whereas the 90s films would have felt content sticking to the rulebook laid down by The Little Mermaid.

 

To top that off, the other modern Disney films include the charming Winnie the Pooh, a super hero movie in Big Hero 6, a video game love letter in Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen, which may look like ‘another’ princess movie from the outside, but narratively and thematically, is in a league of its own in the Disney canon.

Anna and Elsa

Winnie the Pooh is as simple and cute as you would expect from the bear of very little brain, but it has a sense of innocents and peacefulness that most American animated features lack. Big Hero 6, while a by-the-books super hero film in some ways, is genuine and honest enough to give it more heart than its live-action super hero brethren. Wreck-It Ralph is a fun story with a memorable cast of characters, complimented by a constant sense of visual inventiveness. Finally, Frozen took what could have been another tried-and-true Disney musical, and turned it into something meaningful, with believable, even relatable characters, a story that took creative risks, and a level of depth that makes it one of the few Disney films I’ve seen analyzed and interpreted on an artistic level. When was the last time a Disney film had themes that could be interpreted in different ways?

 

I know what you’re probably asking by this point: “What about The Lion King? What about Aladdin?”

The Lion KingTruth be told, I find both The Lion King and Aladdin to be nothing special. That’s not to say I think they’re bad movies, but I certainly don’t think they’re worth the immense praise fans have given them. Nor do they really belong in arguments of great animated films. Aladdin is remembered for the iconic Genie, but take him out of the equation and everything else in the film is pretty forgettable. The Lion King, while good, is a pretty basic plot with an inconsistent tone (one minute Simba is crying over his father’s lifeless body, the next a warthog is singing about farting). And both still stuck true to the established formula. Again, they aren’t bad movies, but I don’t see them as a great argument in favor of the 90s Disney Renaissance.

 

I know, I am now the villain of every 90s kid. But I’m certainly not writing off the nostalgic favorites of the Disney Renaissance. I simply think that Disney’s recent output feels more free. Perhaps Disney doesn’t feel so desperate as to recycle the same formula now that they have the likes of Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars to fall back on, and so their own films are now allowed to be more creatively daring. But whatever the reason, I feel that these past six Disney animated features, while they may not be equal among each other (Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh are no Frozen or Wreck-It Ralph), do feel equally free to be themselves. The Princess and the Frog didn’t write a rulebook like The Little Mermaid did. But it did open the door for Disney movies to be more creative. I would say that’s all the more impressive.