Each of Disney’s latest crop of computer-animated feature films, from “Bolt” to “Tangled” to “Wreck-it Ralph” and culminating in “Frozen,” has been better than the last. The upcoming “Big Hero 6” might be the best yet, and that’s no accident.
These features are coming directly out of Walt Disney Animation Studios, where Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and his “story trust,” made up of the company’s high-level creatives, mirror Pixar’s creative process by meeting multiple times throughout each film’s development to craft the strongest story they can. Judging by the “Big Hero 6” footage shown to journalists at a recent press event, the process is working.
“Big Hero 6” is set in the fictional near-future city of San Fransokyo, which geographically is San Francisco but may be culturally closer to Tokyo. Boy genius Hiro Hamada gets accepted into San Fransokyo Tech, the university his older brother and his brother’s friends attend, at the ripe age of 14 after showing off his latest miracle science project—mind-controlled “microbots” that can take on any shape. But tragedy strikes and he becomes despondent. That’s when he meets Baymax, a goofy inflatable healthcare robot invented by his brother, and the two encounter mysterious masked villain Yokai, who is producing his own microbots for presumably nefarious purposes.
Disney’s animation studio is even decked out with San Fransokyo flair.
Some of the nearly 30 minutes of footage directors Don Hall and Chris Williams showed us was pretty rough. One portion was just bare-bones sketches with voice-over, while in other scenes characters’ hair stuck out through the tops of their hats. We started near the beginning of the film, when Hiro shows off his invention at a science fair, and saw selected clips up through the introduction of Yokai.
Even in its less-than-finished state, this “Big Hero 6” footage hit all the right notes. The film’s character designers, artists, animators, and writers worked hard to give Baymax a unique identity, and he’s definitely unlike any other AI or robot I’ve ever seen onscreen.
When Baymax’s battery runs out, he effectively becomes drunk, stumbling around and mistaking a cat for a “hairy baby.” After their first encounter with Yokai, Hiro surfaces from his funk long enough to build himself and the pot-bellied robot battle armor, turning them into DIY superheroes. We got to see their first test flight, a tumultuous journey twisting around San Fransokyo’s hills and high-rises and up to its floating, blimp-like energy turbines. With Hiro’s instruction, Baymax eventually learns to fist-bump and use slang. They agree the flight was “sick.”