I’ve just left The Soho Hotel in London where Disney were showing clips of Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated movie, with producer Roy Conli, previously of Tangled. He tells us that the film has a week left of physical production, then two to three weeks of post production, and the movie should be ready for 10th October.
Hmm… happily when New York Comic Con is on. Bleeding Cool will be there.
So yes, an American producer comes to town, how does he win us Brits over? First by having Jonathan Ross on hand to introduce him and run a Q&A afterwards.
Then give us a joke about how the setting of this movie, San Fransokyo is a mash up of San Francisco… and Milton Keynes.
And third, by showing us some very cool bits of film. Mission accomplished,
First, the new Disney short Feast. More on that in a different article, I think. Because the press audience wanted to see Big Hero 6. And we did.
It begins with a night shot of San Fransokyo. Immediately the topography is recognisable as San Francisco, from the lights on the bridge in the bay, a clanging tram running down the steep hills, but everywhere is alive in moving flashing neon, Tokyo advertising, branding and building styles mapped out across the architecture. It is impressive, but it will become more so.
We are shown shots from the real-life Carnegie Mellon school of robotics, where Chris Atkinson has been working on soft robotics that inspired the look, and indeed the very nature, of Baymax in the film, robotics intended not to hurt people who come into contact with them in a medical context. This is real, folks.
We were shown footage of three shortlisted walking movements for Baymax, a toddler, a toddler with full nappy and a baby penguin. The final faster waddle won out. You’ll recognise it from here.
Then we get out first full scene. Hiro at the San Fransokyo Technology Instutite, showing off his work, with his brother Tadashi giving him the encouragement he needs, both before and during the presentation of Hiro’s microbots. They are modular robots, controlled by a neural transmitter that fit and work together, creating all manner of shapes and forms together, resembling the robots from Matrix Revolutions, the shoals of fish in Finding Nemo and more than anything, the Modular Man from Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse‘s Tom Strong. More on that later as well. As a scene it combines the emotion of fear, overcoming fear, pride, achievement and family bonds, with a wonderful animated action sequence, Hiro flung around the room but thousand of microbots, surfing them, riding them, becoming a part of them and putting every other exhibit, and exhibitor to shame.
Yeah, and it looks great.
But it wouldn’t be Disney without a family tragedy, and because this is based on a Marvel comic, its in the DNA. After a bonding moment between brothers, the exhibition hall is on fire and Tadashi runs in to help. Because that’s what older brothers do. Or at least Hiro’s brother.
We then see the wake of Tadashi, and how all the progress that Hiro had made is wiped out, along with his brother and his work. And that could have been the end of Hiro’s story but, in his pain, he discovers a present that Tadashi had left, Baymaz, a nurse robot with a few teething troubles. This is the scene recently shown on The Story Of Frozen, with a few extra additions regarding the observations of puberty. We also get a rather Ricky Gervais-y “unbelievable” from Hiro which will pop up a few more times. It may be a catchphrase.
Ron Conli then told us that one of the microbots survived the fire, trapped in Hiro’s hoodie. It is still active, wanting to join its destroyed fellow bots, so Hiro believes it is faulty. But Baymax doesn’t and tries to take it where it wants to go, walking through San Fransokyo narrowly missing traffic as Hiro catches up to him.
“I have found where your tiny robot wants to go”.
A locked, seemingly abandoned warehouse with a small window, which leads to Baymax having to deflate himself to gain entrance. Which means extended farting noises. See, it’s a multi-layered film, and a chance to use Baymax to tell a joke that lasts so long that it stops being funny and then gets to be funny again through sheer perseverance.
Within the warehouse, Hiro discovers a hidden production facility creating… his microbots! Barrels and barrels of them – which then attack him and Baymax, leading to an extensive chase and escape sequence, with a man in a Kabuki mask, clearly controlling the assault. Their escape, courtesy of Baymax’s inflatable self sees them facing a very American unbelieving police force – “So Mr Kabuki was using ESP to attack you and Balloon Man?” – and Baymax dealing with his puncture. Which means even longer extended periods of air seepage, taking that original joke, breaking it and seeing it reform back into funny. A bit like the microbots…
And then we get a true comedy highlight, Baymax’s degraded batteries being treated as the classic slapstick drunk, straight out of the music hall, slurring words, stating the obvious, constantly leaning, and tripping in the most outrageous and extreme poses. And Hiro’s job is to get him home and past his aunt, to the charging station. Given the urgency of the action and adventure, it’s a massive tone change, but a welcome one.
But not all injuries heal as easily. Hiro’s real injury is inside himself and even after downloading advice on dealing with loss, Baymax is still as clumsy as before, calling all of Tadashi’s friends to help before Hiro stops him, ending in a hug. And a talk abot Tadashi and the realistaion that the fire may not have been an accident.
So it’s time to give Baymax armour and kung fu fighting skills, much to the robot’s chagrin. And return to the warehouse, now with some real firepower. Again, it doesn’t go well.
But that’s when Tadeshi’s friends turn up and see the danger for themselves. Cue a musical montage, using some of the material from the original Big Hero 6 teaser as Hiro creates the Big Hero 6, taking each person’s interests and skill base, and weaponising them. Because this also ties into Alan Moore’s theme of “science heroes” from Tom Strong and others from his America’s Best Comics line. The only superpower here is to be clever – and use that cleverness. Theorising that the bad guy is using his mask to control the microbots, we get a training exercise to remove a mask from a very British stiff upper lipped butler – whether freezing him, tying him up or dousing him in flames, he doesn’t break a sweat.
This concludes with what was probably the tour de force of the presentation. Baymax, now with wings and full red armour, taking flight with Hiro. Over the streets of San Fransokyo, through the train tunnels, in and out of the bridge, across the water, up to the Japanese styles floating wind turbines, looking like aeroplane engines, acting like blimps and sending electricity back to the city – with just a touch of Watchmen-meets-Blade Runner about them. It’s a remarkable scene but it then goes straight to the heart of the film.
All this action and adventure, all this purpose, all this drawing people together is giving Hiro the drive, focus, and need that he was missing. It is healing him, making him better, helping to deal with his loss. That central aspect of many a superhero comic is here, superheroics as a way to deal with loss, not only to make a better world but to make a better you.
And that is why Baymax is going along with it all. He is looking after his patient and making him better.
As for the big bad? No idea. I don’t think he could be the fire-scarred brother under that mask. But if I get a chance to watch again, I’ll be looking at every frame of that presentation scene from the beginning…
Because yes, I’ll be watching this film in full, and proabably reeatedly. With my kids, with an extended family… and by myself. This feels like a winner for Big Heroes from Six to Sixty.