Walt Disney Animation Studios is announcing its first movie inspired by a Marvel comic Thursday, an adaptation of a lesser known crime fighter series called “Big Hero 6.”
Directed by Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and due in 2014, the CG-animated movie will center on a robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada and his robot companion BayMax, who join a team of superheroes in a high-tech city called San Fransokyo.
(For a closer look at the city of San Fransokyo, see the video above).
Even die-hard comic book fans may have trouble recalling the Marvel series, which was created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau in 1998 and is something of a whimsical love letter to Japanese culture. Characters in the original comic include a samurai, an agent who invented a nanotechnology-based Power Purse and a monster born from a child’s drawings.
For Hall, the absence of a detail-obsessed fan base for the series was part of its appeal, as it left every character and setting open to interpretation.
“I was looking for something on the obscure side, something that would mesh well with what we do,” Hall said. “The idea of a kid and a robot story with a strong brother element, it’s very Disney.”
The original comic is set in Tokyo, though Hall’s film takes place in a mythical mash-up of Tokyo and San Francisco, a conceit that allows Disney’s animators to imagine a uniquely stylized cityscape — and indulge a studio-wide affinity for Japan fed by that country’s strong animation tradition.
“Marvel properties take place in the real world,” Hall said. “We were looking for something to do where we could make our own world — bring in the Japanese influences, have recognizable landmarks mashed up with a Japanese aesthetic.”
Hall, a lifelong comic book fan who started at Disney Animation in 1995, was in the midst of directing “Winnie the Pooh” when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009. He found “Big Hero 6″ while digging through Marvel’s library for ideas and pitched it to Disney’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, in 2011.
“Big Hero 6″ is being produced wholly at Disney Animation, but Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has been participating in brainstorming sessions about the project.
(For more on the development of “Big Hero 6,” see this Disney Animation story running in Sunday’s Calendar section.)
“Don was a huge fan of Marvel,” Quesada said of Hall. “He understood what we did. I didn’t have to explain our world to him. The relationship between Hiro and his robot has a very Disney flavor to it … but it’s combined with these Marvel heroic arcs.”
For Hall, the movie itself is a mash-up of two passions — animation and comic books.
“It’s basically geek wish fulfillment,” Hall said.
— Rebecca Keegan
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