After their television adaptation of Big Hero 6 launches for good this weekend (an hourlong special, “Baymax Returns,” premiered last fall), McCorkle and Schooley will officially be the guardians of the network’s newest audio treasure: Baymax’s dizzy bada-lala-lala-la fist bump.
As the creative force behind beloved animated series Kim Possible, super-duo Bob McCorkle and Mark Schooley were responsible for shepherding into the world one of Disney Channel’s most iconic soundbites: Kim Possible’s four-note mission alert, to which a whole swath of older millennials with families and careers and real adult interests are likely to find themselves blurting “What’s the sitch?” before realizing they’d even opened their mouths.
Of course, it is more than just that bada-lala-lala-la that McCorkle and Schooley will be delivering straight to our living rooms for the next two years at least (the series has been picked up for Season Two before the premiere, and the team is already hard at work breaking those stories). The show, adapted from the hit Disney movie, returns the whole vibrant explosion of color, style, and science that defines San Fransokyo and the mismatched group of superhero kids who use their super-hearts and super-smarts to defend it.
SYFY WIRE got this McCorkle and Schooley on the phone in advance of the premiere to chat about their creative partnership, adapting a standalone film to a series, and what Big Hero 6 has to say about science, kindness, and friendship.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
So you guys have been working together for decades now — what has that partnership been like? Do you find you’ve sort of settled into grooves with your dynamics on different projects?
Mark: I think so! I think it helps when you have similar sensibilities, so your tastes line up, so you’re kind of both on the same page. But I think also, one of the things about being a team is you tend to work things over more internally before you present it to the outside world, so it’s already gone through more internal revisions. A solo writer does rewriting based on their own instincts, but I think with two of us the stuff gets beaten up a little more before it goes forth, and I think that’s a positive thing.
Bob: I mean, there are certain rhythms… I think that’s one of the things that people sometimes underestimate, the value of being in sync and having a shorthand. You know, we’ve worked with the same composer for a very long time as well — Adam Berry — and when you click with somebody creatively, it’s amazing how smooth the process is to accomplish your goals, to get to an end result that satisfies everyone.
Have there ever been any projects that you’ve worked on where one of you has been more passionate about it than the other, or you had to convince the other person, C’mon, this is worth it, it’s going to be great?
Bob: Only when Mark talked me into taking Japanese in college! And I was terrible at it, which is ironic, considering the show we’re doing now [laughs].
Mark: [laughs] Well — it seemed like the perfect plan to me! It was a self-paced, self-motivated class where you had to do all the work on your own and then just show up for the final. And I was like, “Bob, that’s great! We can just goof off the entire semester!”
Bob: It didn’t work out too well [laughs]. But no, in terms of actual creative projects, I don’t think we’ve ever taken on something that we both don’t think we can do a good job on.
Mark: Yeah, I think we’re in sync enough that usually if there’s something one of us has a trepidation about, we probably both have it.
So how did this Big Hero 6 project come to you? What was the process of going from film to TV series and getting you guys involved?
Mark: We knew there was this movie coming out, we had seen footage from it, and it looked awesome, of course, and then we were invited to an advance screening at Feature Animation with an eye towards —
Bob: — yep, it was finished, it was probably just a few weeks before it came out. And when saw the screening, you know the ending of the movie, where they all jump the camera and it indicates we’re going to have more adventures. You know as soon as we saw that it was like, yeah, that’s a series, and this is the kind of thing we — this is our wheelhouse.
Mark: Yeah, probably a good fit for us, the idea of comedy, adventure, and heart, that’s the kind of storytelling we do. So it just felt like, number one, it was a natural fit for a TV series, it felt like the feature was a launching point for further adventures. And it felt like a good fit for us, and for our strengths.
We definitely got that sense, too, that the end of the movie was just the start of a bigger story.
Mark: Yeah! Well, so many Disney movies are "and then they lived happily ever after," whereas this one is clearly "and then they lived violently ever after" or, I don’t know —
Adventuresomely ever after?
Mark: Yeah. And more of the modern Disney movies do lend themselves to that [open-endedness], but we really loved this one. And we wanted to see more of the other characters, you know, Go Go, Honey Lemon, Fred, Wasabi — they’re all great characters, but they probably all had, cumulatively, 10 minutes of screen time because, you know, the film was so much Hiro’s story. So [adapting it] was just an opportunity to really explore what were fun launching points for characters, and to take them in new directions.
The Big Hero 6 film story did focus really squarely on Hiro and Baymax as the central protagonists, but the “Big Hero 6” encompasses more than just the two of them. Even from just the first two episodes out this weekend (“Issue 188” and “Big Roommates 2”), it seems clear that you guys are working hard to dimensionalize the other four “heroes” to central roles with more backstory and character growth.
Mark: Part of the fun of having most of the original cast, the actors really all love their characters, and I think they’re eager to let them spread out and do different things.
Bob: Yeah, I think one of the things we did early on in the series was the series of shorts, which were Baymax paired up with individual characters — Baymax and Go Go, Baymax and Honey Lemon — we felt like that was a good chance for the writers, the board artists, the directors, and even the animators to all sort of workshop these characters a little bit, get to know what are the mannerisms, where are we going to find the laughs with each of those characters? Obviously from the movie we know what Baymax is going to do, but we want to know more about what those other characters are going to do.
And as you noticed, from the first few you watched, we said to the writers, you know what, we’re going to go do plenty with Hiro, it is his journey, but early on, let’s do some stories that focus on the other characters, so we can kind of learn about them a little bit more, let the viewers learn about them.
Yeah, that’s such a strength of ensemble pieces. We were thinking, as we watched the first two episodes, about Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and how that’s how Brooklyn Nine-Nine approaches their really strong ensemble, pairing them all off each week in new iterations just to see what new comedy they can wring out of those personalities coming up against each other.
Bob: That’s funny, because Brooklyn Nine-Nine was actually one of the touch points when we were talking to writers, pulling this together, to look at as inspiration for how they deal with an ensemble.
Mark: You know, from Season 1 to where they are now, how much has evolved in how they get brilliant humor out of every character.
Have there been any surprises you’ve come across going through that process, anything you’ve discovered about the characters or dynamics that was unexpected or challenging or especially fun or funny?
Mark: Well, they’ve all been fun to write for. I think the writers really like writing for Go Go, because she tends to have the most cutting sense of humor, but — you know, we did one recently where with our world’s version of wrestling, where it’s wrestling in mech suits, and in that one Honey Lemon discovers that she loves it. She becomes an over-the-top, screaming fan. When that session was, Genesis [Rodriguez] was like, “Thank you so much for this, it was just so great to stretch this character in an unexpected way!” It’s always fun when a character is in the spotlight, but also the idea of finding new dimensions is sort of rewarding for everybody.
Bob: And even Cass, we did an episode where she’s sort of in this competitive cooking arena, and seeing her get sort of competitive and crazed was fun, and Maya [Rudolph] had a good time with that.
Mark: Yeah, Maya’s terrific — the whole cast is terrific. We’ve been really lucky, even on the villains side, from our comedic villains to our serious villains, we’ve gotten some amazing performances.
Disney Channel has the clout!
Bob: Yeah, I mean, when we created Obake [the villain in “Baymax Returns”], our dream casting for that was Andrew Scott, and we didn’t think in a million years we would actually get him [laughs], but we were like, well let’s try and see what happens, and he said yes. It was really amazing.
And then you’ve also incorporated the new Dean, Professor Granville, Jennifer Lewis — she’s such a fantastic addition.
Mark: Jennifer is amazing.
Bob: Yeah, those sessions are a wild ride, Jennifer always has stories to tell [laughs]. With that character we just wanted someone — I mean, obviously the position was open, after the movie — so we wanted someone to really challenge Hiro and have a bit of an interesting backstory herself that you will learn over the course of the season, and when we were auditioning, Jennifer just came in and right away we just knew she was the one. She just had such an authority and gravitas to her, but she also had this sort of sense of humor that cuts through the seriousness. Yeah, she’s great.
Of course, so much is brought to these characters with the series’ animation style and general aesthetic, which is entirely familiar, but still so different from the style of the film — flat, but in a really dynamic, compelling way. We read somewhere that 101 Dalmatians was one of your inspirations?
Bob: You know, I think it was Nick Filippi, our supervising director, who wanted that sort of 101 Dalmatians line work, but we also looked at anime — Tekken Concrete was one example of a rich world — and then with the character design it was a lot of trial and error to come up with a sort of angular look where you can still be very expressive and move in three dimensions but that has a stylization to it. Coming off a movie that beautiful, we knew we couldn’t outdo it in that sense, so it was more about coming up with a style that worked for the medium.
Mark: I think to some extent what Nick and the art team did was, let’s make this its own beautiful thing, to be recognizable that it’s based on the work that was done at Features on the movie, but we need to figure out a way it can stand on its own, as a separate vision. It’s not a reinvention to the point that you don’t recognize it — hopefully you can recognize all the characters and will feel like we’re bringing those characters to life in a new way. But yeah, like Bon said, Dalmations was an inspiration, and also Japanese screenprint. There’s a heritage there, where like you said, it’s very flat, but it does have a depth to it by use of color, texture. There definitely was a lot of development and work in the exploratory phase.
How much serialization will you be doing with this series? Animated series are often just a collection of standalone adventures, but a few of Disney’s recent projects — Gravity Falls, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Star Wars Rebels — have been more serialized, with longer arcs and more narrative development. Is that the direction Big Hero 6 will be going, too?
Bob: Yeah, and I think in part because of those shows — and we did it on Kim Possible to a degree, although there it was more accidental because of world-building — but definitely, this is the first show we’ve done where at the beginning of the season we’ve charted an arc for the season, with reveals and secrets that become known.
Mark: Our goal for each episode is that a viewer should be able to watch it and enjoy it and feel like they got a complete piece of entertainment with a beginning, middle, and end, but the episode might have elements to set up something later in the season, or a piece of the bigger puzzle. So it should be satisfying in its own right, but it is part of a bigger plan.
Bob: And we’re doing it where it is more about season-long arcs than it is about series-long arcs, I mean, we sort of resolve one arc by the end of this season and another one stars next season. So it’s not super serialized, but there is this running thing that does reveal itself over time.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to share?
Mark: The day we saw the movie for the first time, when we were walking out, Bob turned to me and he said, “You know what’s really nice about this is, science is a positive thing.” You know, fiction in recent years leaps to the dystopian things going amok, and there was something that science is cool, learning is cool —
Bob: Nerds are cool!
Mark: Being intelligent is a positive thing?! So yeah, we were looking at it thinking, that’s a pretty nice thing to put out in the world right now!
Especially when it’s juxtaposed with being both kind and responsible.
Bob: Yeah, exactly. That was something that really drew us in, the sense of using science for good.
Big Hero 6 The Series premieres on Disney Channel on Saturday, June 9, at 9 a.m. ET.