Tag Archives: Jamie Chung

“Big Hero 6” is This Year’s “Frozen” (and might be even better)

Big Hero 6 flying

by Gabriel Valdez

There’s a moment in Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated superhero film, when I was reminded why I like watching movies with live audiences instead of in critic screenings. Young Hiro has just flipped the switch on his sweet, rotund, inflatable robot Baymax, turning him from a friendly caretaker into a killing machine. In order to exact vengeance, Hiro momentarily erases any conscience the robot has. The next time Hiro tries this, Baymax refuses. You see, Hiro’s lost someone very close, and Baymax tries to teach Hiro to cope in a healthier way than just getting even.

It’s a touching scene that offers a glimpse into how deeply emotional something as silly as a computer-animated superhero comedy can be. I glanced around the theater. Critics would have been furiously scribbling in their notebooks. Instead, I saw a mother wipe away tears and a father badly pretend not to. I looked further and saw this reflected across the entire theater. Families leaned a foot closer to a screen 80 feet away and cried. I’d already given up on wiping away my own tears.

As an adaptation from a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 is hilarious and full of creative action. It’s colorfully, brightly animated, written for both children and adults, and let me repeat: it is incredibly funny. It’s also a tremendous film about coping with loss, one of the most difficult subjects to talk about with children.

Big Hero 6 mid

Hiro is a child prodigy. He invents robots in a California-Japan mishmash of a city called San Fransokyo. He’s content to hustle robot fighting leagues until older brother Tadashi inspires him toward college. Hiro is putting it all together until one key cog comes loose, and everything is taken from him. All Hiro is left with is a clue about the man responsible, and his brother’s robotic personal healthcare assistant Baymax, as large and squishy as he is well-meaning.

The two follow the clue, recruiting help from Hiro’s inventor friends and, once they realize they’re out of their depth, recasting themselves as a team of superheroes with Baymax at the center.

If you’ll follow me on a tangent, Disney (like Pixar) runs a short animated film before each feature. Big Hero 6 gives us a treat with “Feast.” It’s the story of a dog rescued off the street who changes the direction of a man’s life. It is easily the best pairing of animated short and feature film either Pixar or Disney has ever made – “Feast” sets the theme and level of emotion for the bigger film that follows. What is Baymax, after all, if not a rescue? Take away the central mystery and the villain and the superheroics, and the emotional effect Baymax’s innocence and unconditional loyalty have on Hiro’s life are much the same.

Big Hero 6 hairy baby

Let’s get to that headline, though. How is superhero adventure Big Hero 6 like fantasy musical Frozen? There’s no singing, there’s no dancing, no talking snowmen or ice palaces. And yet, I felt the same way coming out of both of them. Endorphins had been kicking in the whole movie, I felt happier coming out than when I went in, and I’d been taken on a very complete emotional journey. I’m still feeling overwhelmed and incredibly charged by Big Hero 6 even as I edit this a day later.

Neither Disney film is a cinematic marvel, and they each lack the polish of a Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon) or proper Pixar (Brave) movie. Yet Big Hero 6 and Frozen are both more rough-and-tumble creative propositions, less finely tuned and more willing to make mistakes. They each bite off more than they can chew, yet find a way to rise to the occasion. They each make up for some occasionally simplified animation with well-defined characters, improvised elements, and plots that are incredibly full of heart. If there were an Oscar for Best Crowd Pleaser, the two Disney animations would walk away with it two years running.

The Big Hero 6 by the way? That team consists of African-American, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Latin-American, and robot characters. Three men, two women, one robot. Including more diverse casts of characters not only provides a wider range of role models for children to look up to, it’s also one of the easiest ways of making the world of a film feel bigger and more real. It’s one less suspension of disbelief rested on an audience’s shoulders. Given the response I saw, I’d say it works.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Big Hero 6 have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Two of the heroes are GoGo, voiced by Jamie Chung, and Honey Lemon, voiced by Genesis Rodriguez. (They all have silly names like that. The hero’s name is Hiro, for godssakes, although that’s lifted from Snow Crash). There’s also Hiro’s guardian, his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. They talk about science and technology, plan how to foil a villain, and argue over whether they’ll make it out of precarious situations. They also engage in group conversations in which women and men address the group at large.

As I was researching the film, I found an early interview indicating GoGo and Honey Lemon would have a petty rivalry over the boys’ attentions. Somewhere along the line, that got ditched, and I couldn’t be happier. Who are they without that petty rivalry? They’re both inventors, geniuses, technically apt, and good in a fight. GoGo is a laconic daredevil, Honey Lemon a stylish nerd.

When they become superheroes, GoGo uses magnetic levitation roller blades and hurls discs at enemies as if she saw Tron and took it as a challenge. Honey Lemon enters chemical formulas onto a keypad on her purse, which then dispenses the correct concoction. She can toss a ball of ice, sticky goo, or hardened shields at a moment’s notice.

As for the men, Wasabi has energy swords and Fred can jump high and breathe fire. That’s fun and all, but the women are far more exciting. GoGo’s scenes offer a lot of high-speed movement and stunts. Since Honey Lemon uses chemical reactions to fight, you don’t exactly know what she’s going to do – that always makes for an intriguing brand of action. Yeah, she uses her purse, but a purse that creates chemical reactions at will to let you fight as you want? Hell, I walked out of the theater wanting one of those.

Big Hero 6 GoGo

I’ll admit, GoGo is now one of my favorite superheroes. At one point, she tells a fretting Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) to “Woman up.” This later becomes a catchphrase she uses when she does something especially superheroic. I imagine my niece running around and shouting, “Woman up,” treating the phrase as the absolute essence of toughness and bravery. That is an incredibly big deal.

Additionally, on that diversity I mentioned earlier – Big Hero 6 is based on a Japanese comic in which nearly all the characters are Japanese. Obviously, that’s going to change in an American adaptation. It’s just what happens, and the same thing happens in reverse when American material is adapted in other countries. There’s nothing wrong with that. Cultures adapt and cast specifically to speak to their own demographics.

In this adaptation, however, Hiro’s family is Japanese, GoGo is Korean, Honey Lemon is Latin-American, Wasabi is African-American, and Fred is Caucasian. Where Frozen tackles issues of gender equality head-on and makes it an issue for certain characters, in Big Hero 6, no one ever has an attitude that someone can’t do something because of ethnicity or gender. It’s never even mentioned.

Both approaches are valuable. Frozen forces audience members to confront the way in which traditional media presents women as weak, helpless, and in need of saving. In Big Hero 6, equality just seems an everyday normality, and you get to spend two hours experiencing what that world is like.

That in itself is a powerful statement, and I can’t applaud the multitude of writers, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, and casting director Jamie Sparer Roberts enough for how they designed this cast and these characters.

As moving as the film is itself, it’s even more extraordinary when you take into account how rare an approach to casting and character treatment this is in something that cost $165 million to make. I can’t recall a big-budget film ever doing diversity this well. Period.

Big Hero 6 team

Should You Watch? ‘Believe’

When I was growing up, you had two seasons when new TV shows premiered: Fall and Spring. And we hiked uphill in the snow to get to both. (The summer was for re-runs.)

Now we have so many channels and so much turnover, there’s a new TV season every two months. Well, it’s March, and we’ve had three major premiers in as many days: Believe, Cosmos, and Resurrection. I’ll handle the first today:

BELIEVE
Pilot”

Believe 2

Imagine, if you will, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been the show you wanted it to be, following a rag-tag group of specialists sharing with each other only on a need-to-know basis while protecting and facing people with super-powers they couldn’t begin to understand. It might even have an interesting cast and fight choreography not done by a three-year old. Now imagine the very best episode that show-in-your-head might have, the kind of once-in-a-season nailbiter that offers enough answers to make you appreciate the mysteries it raises. Now you’ve got the pilot for NBC’s Believe.

In the pilot, we meet Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a little girl with powers she can’t quite control but that involve telepathy, telekinesis, seeing people’s futures, and commanding animals to get downright feisty. A mysterious billionaire named Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan) is out to get her – to train her as a weapon, we’re told – and it’s up to an ill-funded underground operation to protect her. Bo’s newest foster parents are assassinated in the opening sequence, in one of those trademark long-takes that director (and co-creator) Alfonso Cuaron does so well. Cuaron’s coming off an Oscar for his direction of Gravity, but he adjusts tone well to television – there are shades of grittiness akin to his Children of Men, but by and large, Believe is a unique creation.

One thing about having Cuaron and executive producer J.J. Abrams (Lost; Almost Human) on board is that they’ve attracted top notch TV talent. It’s up to the enigmatic Winter (Delroy Lindo) and his protege Channing (Jamie Chung) to find a replacement to protect Bo. They choose an unlikely candidate in Tate (Jake McLaughlin), a death row inmate we meet just a few minutes before his scheduled execution. It’s up to him to rescue Bo from the first of what I’m sure will be many spies in the assassin Moore (a wicked Sienna Guillory). Most of the pilot is an enjoyable extended chase, involving two very well-done fight sequences, clever set-piecing and superb choreography.

The Cast

Believe 1

Lindo is constantly underrated in B-material (most notably David Mamet’s Heist). It’s fun for a cinephile to think of him going up against Kyle MacLachlan (made famous by David Lynch in Twin Peaks). Lindo plays Winter so earnestly that it’s hard to tell if he’s just that good of a guy or if he has his own ulterior motives for Bo.

Chung and Jake McLaughlin, as the two younger heroes, have been working their way steadily to this sort of gig for years – Chung through thankless chauvinist dreck like Sucker Punch and The Hangover series, McLaughlin as supporting characters in Warrior and Savages. In just a handful of scenes, Chung communicates Channing’s near-religious awe for Bo and, by extension, Winter. McLaughlin plays rough and ready-to-rumble well, while balancing Tate on the fine line between charming and smug.

Sequoyah is key to the series, and she invests her role as a maybe-prophet with the flightiness and curiosity of a normal little girl. It makes for a compelling character, but one who we need to understand as more than a MacGuffin before we’re ready to take a season-long ride with Believe.

Much as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human feature African-American and Latin American protagonists, representing the cultural makeup of today’s United States in a realistic fashion, I also applaud Believe for featuring a Native American, an African American, and a Korean American actor as three of its four good guys. All three of these shows are associated with J.J. Abrams or his producing tree. That’s no mere coincidence. However much of a problem fans may have with how Lost ended or how Star Trek got rebooted, he’s pretty much the only producing force on network TV whose shows regularly feature minorities in roles of heroism and leadership.

Should You Watch…

Believe 3

…the pilot? Absolutely. It’s a fantastic hour of TV. I’d be shouting this one from the mountaintops save for two things.

Thing the first: Alfonso Cuaron directed the pilot episode. It’s tense, energetic, and just a touch gritty. He’s obviously not directing past this, so this may be the best episode we get for a while. On the list of future directors, the one that jumps out is Roxann Dawson. She’s most recognizable as an actress from Star Trek: Voyager, but has directed episodes of various Star Treks, Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, The Closer, and – most recently – the best Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet (“Eye Spy”). She’s a go-to contract director on genre fare. Stephen Williams, a director of 26 episodes on Lost, also gives me hope.

There’s some neat stability – the cinematographer across the first several episodes, Gonzalo Amat, is a Mexican short film director hand-picked by Cuaron. Production designer Lester Cohen has created clean, evocative set design for both White Collar and Suits. Make-up head Patricia Regan held the same position with the fantastical Pan Am and the realistic Girls and her looks – especially for McLaughlin and Guillory – are creative and enticing while being just a touch off-putting. That shows me that the behind-the-scenes talent is being given the room to get creative and spread their wings here. That’s promising, so long as the direction of the show itself remains tight.

Thing the second: if movies are the director’s playground, then TV belongs to the writers, and the first episode gets schmaltzy. Now, I like a bit of schmaltz now and then, but there’s noise made about Bo to the tune of: “Think how many people she’ll help along the way.” The show is better set up as an episodic action-adventure than as a miracle-of-the-week. They need to keep the chase the priority and humanize Bo – these two things will let them get away with any Touched By An Angel dynamic they want to work in, but it’s got to be action first if they want it to function.

The directors and writers are rounded out by a smattering of Battlestar Galactica vets and writers on BBC dramas. That sounds like…I don’t know what that sounds like. If there’s a show that combined gritty action and schmaltzy philosophy so simultaneously annoying and provocative as Battlestar Galactica, I haven’t met it. The banter between Tate and Bo is wryly promising. That and Delroy Lindo should keep things very watchable, but this pilot isn’t the kind to tell you where the show is headed yet. I’m being a bit hard on Believe because, even though it’s so promising, you can see the potential pitfalls a mile off…and we’ve been disappointed enough by the Heroes and Agents of recent years. Hopefully, Believe has learned the lessons of these other shows. With a first episode this good, it’s hard not to be cautiously optimistic.