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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Big Hero 6

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Big Hero 6

Year: 2014

Source materials : The comic book published by Marvel Comics and created by the writing collective Man of Action. 1

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Budget: $165 million

Box office: $657.8 million

Plot: Hiro Hamada is a 14-year-old robotics genius living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo who spends much of his free time participating in illegal robot fights.

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To redirect Hiro, his older brother Tadashi takes him to the research lab at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends, GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Hiro also meets Professor Robert Callaghan, the head of the university’s robotics program. Amazed, Hiro decides to apply to the university.

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To enroll, he signs up for the school’s science fair and presents his project: microbots, swarms of tiny robots that can link together in any arrangement imaginable using a neurocranial transmitter. At the fair, Hiro declines an offer from Alistair Krei, CEO of Krei Tech, to market the microbots, and Callaghan accepts him into the school.

At the end of the day, a fire breaks out among the exhibits and Tadashi rushes in to save Callaghan, the only person left inside. The building explodes moments later, killing Tadashi.

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Weeks later, a depressed Hiro, in mourning for Callaghan’s and Tadashi’s death, inadvertently activates Baymax, the inflatable healthcare robot that Tadashi created; the two find Hiro’s only remaining microbot and follow it to an abandoned warehouse. There they discover that someone has been mass-producing the microbots, and are attacked by a man wearing a Kabuki mask who is controlling them.

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After they escape, Hiro equips Baymax with armor and a battle chip containing various karate moves, and they track the masked man to the docks. GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred arrive, responding to a call from Baymax, and the masked man chases the group. The six escape to Fred’s mansion, where they decide to form a high-tech superhero team to combat the villain.

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The group tracks the masked man, whom they suspect to be Krei, to an abandoned Krei Tech laboratory which was used for teleportation research until a test pilot was lost in an accident. The masked man attacks, but the group subdues him and knocks off his mask – revealing him to be Callaghan, who had stolen and used Hiro’s microbots to shield himself from the explosion, leaving Tadashi to die.

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Enraged, Hiro removes Baymax’s healthcare chip, leaving only the battle chip, and orders him to kill Callaghan. Honey reinstalls the healthcare chip at the last second, preventing Baymax from carrying out the kill order. Callaghan escapes, and Hiro leaves with Baymax, intent on avenging Tadashi.

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Back home, Hiro tries to remove the healthcare chip again, but Baymax stops him and states that vengeance is not what Tadashi would have wanted. To calm him down, Baymax shows Hiro videos of Tadashi running numerous tests during Baymax’s development as a demonstration of Tadashi’s benevolence and legacy. Hiro remorsefully apologizes to his friends, who reassure him they will catch Callaghan the right way.

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Video footage from the laboratory accident reveals that the lost test pilot was Callaghan’s daughter Abigail, and that Callaghan is seeking revenge on Krei. Callaghan interrupts Krei at a public event and attempts to destroy his headquarters using Krei’s teleportation portal. After a lengthy battle, the team deprives Callaghan of his microbots and the mask, saving Krei, but the portal remains active.

Baymax detects Abigail inside, alive but in hyper-sleep, and leaps into the portal with Hiro to rescue her. They find Abigail’s pod, but on the way back out, Baymax is struck by debris, damaging his armor and disabling his thrusters. With no other option Baymax activates his armor’s rocket fist, and asks Hiro to say he is satisfied with his care, to the shock of Hiro, but Baymax convinces him to do it, saying he will always be with him. Hiro agrees, and Baymax fires his rocket fist, propelling Hiro and Abigail back through the portal before it closes. Callaghan is arrested while Abigail is taken to the hospital.

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Some time later, Hiro discovers Baymax’s health care chip clenched in the rocket fist. He rebuilds Baymax’s body, and the six friends continue their exploits throughout the city. During the end credits, a series of newspaper headlines reveals that the university has awarded Hiro a grant and dedicated a building in Tadashi’s honor, and that the team has continued protecting the city.

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In a post-credits scene, Fred discovers a hidden cache of superhero equipment in his family mansion. His father, a retired superhero, returns from vacation and says, “We have a lot to talk about.”

Background: In 2009, Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment. CEO Bob Iger encouraged the company’s divisions to explore Marvel’s properties for adaptation concepts. Director Don Hall pitched the concept to John Lasseter after looking at a list of Marvel properties.

Several members of Marvel’s creative team were involved in the film’s production including Joe Quesada, Marvel’s chief creative officer, and Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel Television. Quesada stated, “The relationship between Hiro and his robot has a very Disney flavor to it … but it’s combined with these Marvel heroic arcs.”2

Changes from the Source Material: In the original comic book, the team is created by the Japanese government and features the characters Sunfire 3 and Silver Samauri. 4 Honey, Wasabai, Fred, and Go Go have super powers in the comics, yet in the film, their technology is the source of their power, and that tech pays homage to their powers in the comics. Baymax is built by Hiro, not his brother, and Baymax is capable of transforming into a dragon, using the brain engrams of Hiro’s dead father.

Animation: “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.” -Don Hall

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Hall and the design team took a research trip to Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, where they met a team who were pioneering the new field of ‘soft robotics’ using inflatable vinyl.

To create San Fransokyo as a detailed digital simulation of an entire city, Disney purchased the actual assessor data for the entire city and county of San Francisco. Several software programs were used. One called Denizen was used to create over 700 distinctive characters in the city. Bonzai was used to create 250,000 trees. Finally, a new rendering system called Hyperion offered new illumination possibilities, like light shining through a translucent object.

Music: Henry Jackman composed the score for the film.The soundtrack features an original song titled “Immortals” written and recorded by Fall Out Boy.

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Voice Cast:

Ryan Potter as Hiro. He is best known for his starring role as Mike Fukanaga in Supah Ninjas and stars as Beast Boy in the television series Titans. Scott Adsit as Baymax. He is known for his role as Pete Hornberger, on 30 Rock, and co-created the animated series Morel Orel.

Daniel Henney as Tadashi. He played Agent Zero in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and appears as Special Agent Matt Simmons on Criminal Minds. T.J. Miller 5 as Fred. His breakout role was in the film Cloverfield. He voiced Tuffnut Thorston in all three How to Train Your Dragon films and Robbie on Gravity Falls. He starred as Erlich Bachman on Silicon Valley, and also played the character Weasel in Deadpool and Deadpool 2. He has had roles in films such as Yogi Bear, She’s Out of My League, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Office Christmas Party, The Emoji Movie and Ready Player One.

Jamie Chung as Go Go. She first gained fame as a cast member on reality series The Real World: San Diego and has since become known for films such as Dragonball Evolution, Grown Ups, Premium Rush, Sorority Row, The Hangover Part II, Sucker Punch, and Eden. She plays Blink in the series The Gifted. She has appeared in the recurring role of Mulan on Once Upon a Time. Damon Wayans Jr. as Wasabi. He is known for starring as Brad Williams in Happy Endings and as Coach in New Girl.

Genesis Rodriguez as Honey Lemon. She started in telenovelas Prisionera, Dame Chocolate, and Doña Bárbara. She played Sarah on Entourage and Jane Walker on Time After Time. She has starred in the films Man on a Ledge, Casa de Mi Padre, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, The Last Stand, Tusk, and Run All Night. James Cromwell as Robert Callaghan. He has appeared in numerous films including Babe, 6 Star Trek: First Contact, L.A. Confidential, The Green Mile, Space Cowboys, The Sum of All Fears, I, Robot, The Longest Yard, The Queen, Secretariat, The Artist, and Marshall as well as the television series Angels in America, Six Feet Under, Halt and Catch Fire, and American Horror Story: Asylum. 7

Maya Rudolph as Cass. Rudolph became a cast member on the NBC television series Saturday Night Live Rudolph has appeared in 50 First Dates, A Prairie Home Companion, Grown Ups, Bridesmaids, Grown Ups 2, and Sisters. Stan Lee 8 as Fred’s dad. He was formerly editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and later its publisher and chairman before leaving the company to become its chairman emeritus. He was the co-creator of most of the Marvel characters introduced during the Silver Age. He made numerous cameos in films not only based on Marvel films but other films and television series inspired by comic books.

Where in the world is Alan Tudek? Alan plays Alistair Krei,

Critical Reception:

  • Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post gave the film 3.5/4 stars, writing that “The real appeal of Big Hero 6 isn’t its action. It’s the central character’s heart.”
  • Maricar Estrella of Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave the film 5 stars, saying it “offers something for everyone: action, camaraderie, superheroes and villains. But mostly, Baymax offers a compassionate and healing voice for those suffering, and a hug that can be felt through the screen.”
  • Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating, “The breakthrough star of the season is here. His name is Baymax and he’s impossible not to love. The 3-D animated Big Hero 6 would be a ton less fun without this irresistible blob of roly-poly, robot charisma.”
  • Kofi Outlaw of Screen Rant gave the film 4 out of 5 stars or “excellent”, explaining that “Big Hero 6 combines Disney wonder and charm with Marvel awe and action to deliver a film that exhibits the best of both studios.”

Legacy: Big Hero 6 won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. A Big Hero 6 television series was in development and premiered on Disney Channel and Disney XD in 2017. The series takes place immediately after the events of the film.

Video Games:

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  • Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay released for the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo DS. 9
  • Hiro and Baymax are available in Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes as playable Disney Originals characters in the Toy Box.
  • Disney Mobile released Big Hero 6: Bot Fight
  • A world based on Big Hero 6 will make its debut appearance in Kingdom Hearts III.

My take: This is one of the few films I hadn’t actually seen before. It somehow just slipped by me.

I’m kind of upset I waited this long to watch it.

The first thing that struck me was how detailed the environment was. The city is a great combination of the sleek and the worn, and yet still having the feel of San Francisco.

Another thing that struck me was how solid the relationships were right from the start. You got the relationship between the brothers, with the aunt, and with the lab partners.

Baymax is a wonderful character. Eternally blissfully innocent, but yet can turn into a terrifying juggernaut with the wrong programming.

It hit the right notes of a superhero story and is also genre savvy about them: the origin, the red herring, the gradual mastery of their powers and the heroic sacrifice. Of course there’s a post credit sequence

Next Week: We go inside Riley’s head