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Marvel Studios Countdown: What’s the Big Deal with ‘Big Hero 6’?

Before Iron Man came to theaters in 2008, there was a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not audiences would buy a ticket to see a “B-level” Marvel character in the same way that they had with Spider-Man and the X-Men. Five years later and that question has been answered with a loud “YE$ ,” an affirmative so big that I had to replace the letter “s” with an actual dollar sign to get the point across. While Iron Man may not have been a surefire Marvel star player, he still had a level of visual familiarity on his side. People could recognize him on a T-shirt or in the toy aisle prior to his film. While he may not have had household-name cache, he wasn’t a complete unknown.

Marvel’s real gamble will be Big Hero 6, the animated film based on a comic property that’s never even had its own regular series (just two minis – a three-issue run of Sunfire and the Big Hero 6 in 1998 and five issues of Big Hero 6 in 2008). Heck, even Blade had more comic history and cult devotion behind him when his movie came out. When Disney purchased Marvel, fans demanded an animated adaptation of some sort, but I don’t think this is the one they were asking for.

There are signs in the 2008 miniseries that Marvel was already planning ahead with the property. Two members of the team from the original 1998 incarnation, Sunfire and Silver Samurai, were dumped without any fanfare, and interestingly enough, both characters are tied up at 20th Century Fox as part of its X-Men movie license. In fact, you’ll see Silver Samurai in this summer’s The Wolverine. Despite reports that production happened organically, that director Don Hall pitched it to John Lasseter in 2011, it sure seems like Marvel was already doing some forward-thinking housecleaning before that point.

So, who are the Big Hero 6? They’re a team of Japanese superheroes assembled by Giri, a special interest group in the Japanese government similar to S.H.I.E.L.D. So similar in fact, that Big Hero 6 even has its own one-eyed liason named Furi (Furi Wamu, no relation to Nick). Big Hero 6 comics do take place in the Marvel Universe, but the film may be taking a different approach as to not confuse moviegoers with Marvel’s current live-action line. Writer-director Don Hall told the L.A. Times, “Marvel properties take place in the real world. 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.” Though the comic version takes place in modern Japan, the movie takes place in the future, in the fictional East-meets-West city of San Fransokyo.

The official logline from Disney is as follows: “Brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion, a robot named Baymax, Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city.” No additional cast announcements have been made, but if the creators bring over all the characters from the comic, here’s who we’ll be seeing…

Hiro Hamada – Known as Hiro Takachiho in the comics, he’s a genius inventor, which if you consider Jimmy Neutron, Meet the Robinson’s Lewis, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ Flint Lockwood has pretty become much a stock character in adventure animation. In Sunfire and the Big Hero 6, he’s characterized as a wimpy, somewhat bitter nerd who’s bullied by his peers, but in the later series, he’s a fresh-faced innocent who’s just in way over his head. I expect the film to match the later one, writer Chris Claremont’s version.

Baymax – Hiro created Baymax to be his exclusive robot bodyguard. In his debut appearance, he’s a humanoid who transforms into a biomechanical dragon/monster, but later appearances have him change from the humanoid form into a more traditional big robot. I like the big bulky robot better, and Hall confirms that it’s how Baymax will be used, “The idea of a kid and a robot story with a strong brother element, it’s very Disney.”

Honey Lemon – Honey Lemon is a rowdy young lady with an artifact called the Power Purse, a magical bag that allows her to pull powerful objects from another dimension. She has a playfully antagonistic relationship with Hiro.

Go Go Tomago – Leiko Tanaka wears a voice-activated power suit that turns her into a kind of unstoppable human cannonball. She’s the most straightforward, no-nonsense member of the team.

Wasabi No-Ginger – This sushi chef can form his personal energy — his qi — into small knives and daggers to incapacitate foes. He’s the most rambunctious and swashbuckling of the group.

Fred – Most of the time, the mysterious Fred looks like a powerless slacker on the surface,but within him is the spirit of a Godzilla-like monster that appears as a protective physical aura around Fred. Fred is sort of dismissed by his Big Hero 6 teammates most of the time, but they’ll stand in awe of him whenever his powers are displayed. I assume that Claremont’s addition of Fred to the 2008 version of the team is what caused the change in Baymax. There was no need for two giant reptile monsters on one superhero team, I guess. I’m hoping the film includes Fred’s costume of choice: a vintage Jack Kirby Devil Dinosaur tee.

Writer-director Don Hall has worked on many of Disney’s biggest projects including Winnie the Pooh, Tarzan and The Princess and the Frog. If you’re worried about Hall being too “kiddie” for big-time Marvel action, Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada wants to put fans’ concerns to rest: “Don was a huge fan of Marvel. He understood what we did. I didn’t have to explain our world to him.”

Big Hero 6 is slated to hit theaters on November 7, 2014, cushioning the wait between summer 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers 2 in May 2015.

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