Think that Iron Man is getting a little paunchy for the robotic costume? Worried about the crows-feet peeking out from behind Captain America’s mask? Well, get ready for some fresh blood, as the next generation of superhero is preparing to take to the big screen this fall.
That’s when Walt Disney Animation Studios, coming off of the record-breaking success of “Frozen,” unleashes “Big Hero 6,” a film based on a cult Marvel property (by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau). And we’ve got the brand new trailer, as well as an exclusive interview with filmmakers Chris Williams (who helmed “Bolt“) and Don Hall (the filmmaker behind 2011’s criminally underrated “Winnie the Pooh”).
In the trailer, we get a glimpse of the relationship between Hiro (Ryan Potter), a teenage genius who, along with his inflatable robot Baymax (Scott Adsit from “30 Rock”), set out to create a new team of fresh-faced heroes. (Also on the roster: T.J. Miller as Fred, Jamie Chung as GoGo Tomago, Damon Waynes, Jr. as Wasabi No Ginger, and Genesis Rodriguez as Honey Lemon. Yes, this movie is going to be wacky.)
By watching the brief trailer you can pick up on the elements that make “Big Hero 6” so different and special: the crazy mixture of action film theatrics and buddy movie dynamics; the colorful characters, and how utterly hilarious it all is (when Baymax is powering down towards the end, seltzer almost flew out of our nose — and we weren’t even drinking anything!) “Big Hero 6,” which is out on November 7th, will be unlike anything Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced yet — bold, bright, and boisterously funny.
When we spoke with Hall and Williams on the phone, we talked about the movie’s central relationship, why Adsit was cast as the lovable robot Baymax, the research that went into the robot’s design, what it was like striking that delicate tonal balance, and what it was like making a movie based on a Marvel superhero property that is totally unrelated to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Moviefone: The trailer places a lot of emphasis on the relationship between Baymax and Hiro. Is that evocative of the movie as a whole?
Chris Williams: Yes. Absolutely. We’ve got a big cast and a lot of colorful characters but the heart of the story is definitely Hiro and Baymax, and the journey they go through together.
Don Hall: It’s the emotional heart of the movie — the relationship between Hiro, this 14-year-old super genius and Baymax, this robot who is designed to be a health care provider, completely innocent and without guile and lives to help people. The idea that this kid is turning this robot into a mech’d out superhero — that idea is the core of the movie.
Can you talk about the design of Baymax?
Williams: He is an inflatable robot, which is a real thing. Early on in the process, Don went to MIT and a bunch of robotics universities and saw the technology of inflatable robots and was really excited about it and our artists built on that idea and Baymax was born.
What was that process like?
Hall: The week “Winnie the Pooh” came out I was on a research trip back East. I went to Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Harvard… And I was looking at robots because obviously this movie needed a robot in it. I wanted a robot that we had never seen before and something to be wholly original. That’s a tough thing to do, we’ve got a lot of robots in pop culture, everything from “The Terminator” to “WALL-E” to C-3PO on down the line and not to mention Japanese robots, I won’t go into that. So I wanted to do something original.
While at Carnegie Mellon — Disney has a research group there, and they’re the coolest, kindest people in the world and showed us all the stuff they’re working on. I met a researcher who was working on soft robots. And one of the artists here, before I had even left, said, “We gotta do a huggable robot.” It was an inflatable vinyl arm and the practical app would be in the health care industry as a nurse or doctor’s assistant. He had me at vinyl. This particular researcher went into this long pitch but the minute he showed me that inflatable arm I knew we had our huggable robot.
Can you talk about what made Scott a perfect inflatable robot?
Williams: [laughs] Yeah, it was the part he was born to play! He’s a really gifted comedic actor besides being a super nice guy. He has a very warm quality. He’s just a good person. And that comes through in the character. Baymax is a very selfless, healing, helping robot and one thing that Scott is amazing at is finding a way for the robot to stay inside a certain range. We didn’t want to break the rules. We wanted this to be a robot that had a certain set of programming and at the same time, within that spectrum, we wanted to find a way to subtly humanize him, so he’ll do takes when he just alters the inflection and the robot will be slightly more apathetic or more sad but in a way that is so difficult to discern where it’s coming from. He’s a really subtle, gifted actor with this innate comic timing. Because Baymax is a restrictive character — he doesn’t have a mouth! He becomes a mirror where we’re able to infer a lot of things into his acting and so yes, Scott was great at that.
Hall: We do these screenings here where we storyboard the movie multiple times and do screening internally with the entire studio but for the other directors and John Lasseter. So the scratch voice for Baymax was somebody who is internal and I always wanted somebody who had a very soft, soothing voice. But the troubling voice is that it could go HAL from “2001” real easy. We looked at a lot of actors but Scott, when we found him, it was one of those things where the tumblers fell — he’s got such a wonderful tone to his voice. But the amazing thing is the emotional range of this character isn’t very broad, although we hint at some sentience as the movie progresses and there’s a little bit of an arc. The vocal performance, though, had to fit into a certain framework. But Scott, being the performer he is, was still able to do multiple emotions within this very narrow framework. I can’t say enough about that guy. He is amazing.
You mention the comedic dimension, and the trailer is super funny. Would you say that this is primarily a comedy? Tonally where is the movie going to go?
Williams: You know, that’s a great question because so much of making the movie has been finding the personality — we’re making a Disney-Marvel superhero movie and we knew we were going to be coming up with something that had never been seen before. It’s hard to relate or connect it to other movies because it was going to be it’s own thing. Certainly, as you’re watching the movie, we want it to be really entertaining and really funny and I think we’ve been successful. It’s a lot of fun, tonally. At the same time, there are some real highs and lows emotionally for our main character and I think our main character will be really surprised by the depth of the emotion and how much they feel for Hiro and Baymax. I think people are going to really connect with Baymax beyond what they expect, given that he is a robot.
It certainly is a goal for us at Disney to make movies that are fun and funny but have that emotional depth and heft. Because we want it to stand the test of time. This is a Disney movie and there’s such a rich heritage of Disney animated movies. We want to make movies that appeal to audiences now but we were raised on Disney movies and we still watch “Dumbo” and love “Snow White” and we’d like to think we’re making movies that, 50 years from now, people will be able to enjoy. And the only way that works is if there’s an emotional depth, so that’s something that we’re always mindful of. Tonally it’s going to be a mix of things but I think it’ll be cohesive at the same time.
Hall: It’s tricky. You spend a lot of time working on refining characters and you spend a lot of time on refining tone. That’s why we do all these screenings — because that’s what you’re constantly working on. But we finally found the right blend of comedy, drama and action stuff too. The heart is what Disney films embody. I feel like our audience expects the full gamut of emotions and that it’s very important that we deliver that.
This movie is based on a Marvel property but unmoored from the cumbersome Marvel Cinematic Universe. Was that fun to develop without having to worry about Iron Man flying by in the background?
Hall: Yes, it was liberating. Because when we first started, we didn’t know how all this was going to go. But in our first meeting with Marvel, when John picked “Big Hero 6,” Marvel was super encouraging to not tie it to their mythology at all. It was like — “Create your own universe, create your own characters, and don’t worry about anything else.” I love the Marvel Universe and the mythology of the Marvel Universe if I had to be cognizant of all of that stuff during the course of this movie my brain would have exploded. There was enough in this movie with the new team and this world we’ve created, it was plenty. As much as I love the Marvel Universe, I’m glad that we chose to create our own thing.
Disney’s “Big Hero 6” hits theaters November 7.