Living up to the Disney legacy
After the huge success of Frozen last year, viewers will be going into this film expecting the same heart and soul that Anna and Elsa brought to the table. Although Big Hero 6 is an entirely different story, the film will still present themes that you’d want to see and feel in any Disney narrative.
In co-director Chris Williams’ words, Big Hero 6 uses family to create a “universal emotional story” that viewers will find to be very Disney.
“The thing that seems to define all these eclectic [Disney] movies is that there’s a sense of timelessness. People can watch Dumbo, people can watch Pinocchio, and Bambi and all these movies, and we’re in a place where we’re carrying that heritage forward,” Williams told us in our sit-down interview. “We don’t want to be limited by it – we don’t want to say, because we’re Disney we can’t do these types of things, but we do want it to have this type of timeless quality. We want to believe that years from now, our kids will be sharing it with their kids and on and on. That’s the thing that to me makes it a Disney movie.”
Co-director Don Hall, who joined the project before Williams, told us “the heart and the humor” makes it Disney. “I’ve always felt like we’ve done character-driven action films with tons of heart and humor, but this one may’ve brought out more of the action elements, but I’ve always felt our best movies are character driven and have tons of action and tons of tears.
“Not TONS of tears, but enough,” he added with a laugh. “[Big Hero 6] has got the right amount of tears.”
After hearing Hall’s thoughts, Williams agreed that these Disney qualities in Big Hero 6 were what drew him to the project to begin with. “I was always attracted to the fact that this story had this very tiny, potent sweet story about this relationship between this boy and the robot, and this big, over the top action packed story, and the fact that one’s not over there and one’s over there, they actually cohabitate nicely. That’s something I’m very excited about.”
In a separate interview, producer Roy Conli told us that he believes Big Hero 6 makes you want to live in its world, thus making it a Disney story.
“Every super hero story that I’ve seen, every romantic comedy that I’ve seen, every film that I’ve fallen in love with, at the heart is a world that you want to be in and people that you really care for,” he told us in his office which sits right off the main hallway where Big Hero 6 is in development. “That’s the general hallmark of what a Disney film is, and I think Marvel is the same way. I love Tony Stark. I’m interested in Tony Stark, I worry about Tony Stark – I want to be Tony Stark! I think what we’re achieving through this relationship is, wouldn’t you want a Baymax? That relationship carries you through the entire movie, and it’s such a wonderful relationship that is somewhat enviable.”
The John Lasseter Effect
Pixar legend (and Chief Creative Officer) John Lasseter offers help across all of the Mouse House’s animation work, but what surprised us during our time with Big Hero 6’s team was just how highly everyone spoke of him.
From the producer to the directors to the story developers, everyone believes Lasseter is an extremely important part of the Disney family.
“He is the busiest man in Hollywood I think,” said Baird. “I don’t know how he does it. He’s executive producer of every movie at Pixar and every movie here at Disney, and then at DisneyToon Studios too. And he manages to keep all these stories in his head. And we’re checking in with him every couple of weeks, every month. He is the guy – he is the greatest story brain out there. And we have him as a resource.”
One of Lasseter’s special abilities is the way he relates to the story development team because he has experienced the same problems that they have. When they have issues, Lasseter sits with them to find a solution. Explained Baird, “John comes in and goes, ‘Yeah, I know how hard it is [making stories],’ and he asks the right questions. There are times where I’ll be pitching something to him and I’m saying to myself, ‘He is not here he is not here he is not here.’ As soon as I’m done pitching he comes out with stuff and I’m like, ‘You are on point.’ I’ve learned so much from him.”
Added Briggs, “What’s really cool about John too, and I appreciate this a lot, with [Disney CEO] Bob Iger and [Disney Chairman] Alan Horn the same way, they will present their thoughts and feelings towards things but it’s not necessarily marching orders. John will go, ‘Here’s how I’m feeling, here’s how I’m reacting towards it,’ and if you explain to him, ‘Well I hear what you’re saying but that doesn’t work and here are the reasons it doesn’t work,’ John is just one of the story guys in the room. He’ll go, ‘I get that, yeah, go down that route. That’s smart, do that.’ To have a relationship like that with a creative executive where he’s helping you craft this thing is special.”
This ability to send development teams in the right direction is part of what’s ushered Disney into a special area following the success of films like Frozen and Wreck-it Ralph. “I think there’s a maturity that this studio has undergone under the tutelage of John [Lasseter],” Conli said to me in the most serious tone of our interview. “The maturation of the culture of the studio has really taken root. We are such a collaborative – we communicate so well now. I’ve always loved animation because there’s no ego in it. But with John any bit of ego is out the window and it’s all great filmmaking.”