Like many, I greatly enjoyed Disney’s Big Hero 6 (2014), which was loosely based on a Marvel Comics series. I found it on par with many of Marvel’s live-action films, and was delighted to hear the characters’ adventures would continue, even as a television series instead of a film. With the show beginning in due course with four episodes this weekend, let’s take a look at last year’s one-hour special, “Baymax Returns,” to see what the film’s small screen translation has in store for us:
The show is 2D rather than 3D, similar to other recent Disney cartoons based on feature films like Tangled and Hotel Transylvania: it’s a fascinating trend, given how Disney hasn’t released a 2D feature film since 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. The show does a great job of translating the film’s look to the medium, even though the animators can’t afford to make their cast as squishy as the film versions, you can still see great care has been given to let small curves into the otherwise angular character designs. The colors are also richly saturated and luminescent, unlike the muted palettes of other current superhero cartoons on Disney XD.
2. Voice cast
Most of the film’s cast are back for the show, particularly Ryan Potter as Hiro Hamada, who does sound noticeably older. The two major exceptions are Khary Payton, who takes over from Damon Wayans Jr. as Wasabi, while SNL veteran Brooks Wheelan replaces T.J. Miller as Fred. Khary Payton basically sounds like Khary Payton, by which I mean I’ll never not hear Cyborg from Teen Titans, and Wheelan is nowhere as distinctly husky as Miller, but given the recent issues with the latter’s personal life, I’m not going to complain.
Our major new additions to the cast are the fabulous Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish) as Professor Granville, the head of the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, who is stern, no-nonsense, and most definitely not a hugger. She’s going to be a fascinating mentor to Hiro, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s already figured out his secret identity, much like our mysterious new big bad Obake. I was shocked to read Obake is voiced by Andrew Scott (Sherlock‘s Moriarty); he’s putting on a much stuffier, and less flamboyant performance, than usual.
I found the messages and morals of this double-sized episode a little muddled for a kid’s show. Basically the episode tries to depict the part of the classic hero’s journey where they reject the call of heroism, with Fred being the only member of the team that is still enthusiastic about suiting up. Hiro himself is torn between continuing his brother’s legacy, and being a superhero.
However, the plot is about Hiro and Fred being blackmailed by crime boss Yama into stealing a paperweight owned by Granville (which contains a rare powerful mineral), but there’s no sense of regret on their part, no realization that they succumbed to their fear: basically the story and morals are mismatched. Character arcs of Wasabi overcoming his own anxiety, or Honey Lemon being uncomfortable fighting, are similarly set-up with no real resolution, although those are fine given they’ll presumably be explored in further episodes.
Basically, don’t watch this episode expecting Spider-Man 2.
4. Comic book parodies
It’s going to be interesting if there will be anything else pulled from the Marvel Universe, given how Marvel Comics have distanced themselves from the movie. I couldn’t detect any obscure references, but the creative team clearly had fun running with the parallels between Fred and Heathcliff, and a certain DC hero and his butler, including a spotlight that reads “HALP” (it’s such a dumb joke, but I’m still sniggering about it). More broadly, the episode could be seen as paying homage to setpieces in films like Age of Ultron and the Spider-Man sequel, coupled with some wry awareness of the tropes in these films eg. Fred’s comment about flipped cars always landing wheels up.
I have to give it up for Adam Berry’s score, which reflects the onscreen action so well, much like Carl Stalling and Richard Stone’s work on Looney Tunes and Animaniacs. It really accentuated the laughs during moments like Baymax’s endoskeleton popping behind Granville’s window, or when the rest of the team fails to notice Hiro or Baymax on the street.Continued below
– The paperweight’s green energy lines reminded me of some cartoon or comic I’ve seen before, but I can’t place where.
– Was anyone confused by how Honey Lemon’s glue seems to stop the runaway train, but Baymax and Hiro still have to stop it?
– Does anyone have any idea who these background characters could be? My feeling is they’re the cast of Big Trouble in Little China, albeit heavily redesigned for copyright reasons.
Overall, “Baymax Returns” was a pretty fun, zany hour of television, even though it struggled to gather the same amount of heart as the film. Still, it’s an energetic return to a colorful and promising world, and I’m keen to see how the creators progress with its relatively blank canvas when it returns this week. Until then – balalalala.