Before you see Big Hero 6, a Disney movie based on the comic book of the same name -- and you should, because it's intelligent, heartwarming and fun -- we first need to give you a heads-up: It's more than a movie about a boy named Hiro and his rubbery robot, Baymax. It's also about grief and how it changes the ones who have suffered a loss.
If that sounds deep, it's because underneath its squishy, childlike exterior, there's a solid core to Big Hero 6 ... which is also how you could describe the loveable Baymax.
According to one of the film's two directors, Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh), Baymax's squishable look was inspired by his trip to Carnegie Mellon University, where they met a researcher doing "soft robotics, which is going to be used in the future as a nurse robot."
Soft robotics? It doesn't sound much like a Disney film. That's because Hall and co-director Chris Williams (Bolt) have created a new world, one that's mostly based on a "relatively obscure" Marvel comic book. "I loved just the playfulness of [the books]," Hall said. "They were entertaining and kind of light, and the whole thing was a love letter to Japanese pop culture."
But instead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they've given us a near-future hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo: San Fransokyo. Although Big Hero 6 doesn't give us cameos of Iron Man or Captain America, there's the tiniest bit of Blade Runner in this mix, as well as slivers of Akira and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Hall said.
Better yet, there's real-world technology here. Hall and Williams dotted the skyscape with zeppelins. And though they're never outright explained, the directors told me they are actually airborne wind turbines, helium-filled devices that convert wind power into electricity—albeit more colorful versions of the ones that are, according to Hall, in prototype right now.
Hall said, "The core relationship in the story is really a 14-year-old super-genius and a robot ... we knew technology was going to be important, so we made it the superpower of the movie. 'Supertech' is really the superpower." But "I wanted to ground it and make sure we were being logical and [the character's abilities] had a reality to it."
One of the reasons that the characters' abillities are real is because they themselves invented their supertech. Williams said, "We really liked the idea of making a movie that can celebrate smart kids who make the most of their potential."
To get their science right, the directors also consulted roboticists and grief counselors, to finesse their terminology. Then came the expert on human development.Williams said, "We researched everything in great depth and great detail. We had someone come in talk about puberty and the changes that take place during puberty, because we were going to be talking about that in the film. It was an awkward meeting, actually."
Another awkward moment is the fact that I know a fabulous spoiler and can't tell you about it, because the directors pleaded for my silence. You can see it for yourselves ... if you stay for the credits, that is.
Oh, and one last thing you need to know before you see Big Hero 6: Directors Hall and Williams said, "There are plenty of easter eggs in the film. Pay very close attention to Fred's room."
Big Hero 6 is in cinemas today.