The seal is finally broken.
When Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, we all knew some level of “corporate synergy” would be the order of the day. That synergy hits screens on November 7 with the release of Big Hero 6, a full-blown Disney animated film featuring a little-known Marvel Comics property. The story follows 14-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada as incredible events lead him to create a team of superheroes in his mash-up, day-after-tomorrow hometown of San Fransokyo.
Hiro is one member of Big Hero 6, aided and abetted by laser-handed Wasabi No-Ginger, chemical-compounding Honey Lemon, high-speed GoGo Tomago, and Fred (who becomes a high-jumping, fire-breathing lizard-man…and college mascot). The five human members are joined by Baymax, a loveable inflatable robot.
Roy Conli is the film’s producer, and a 20-year Disney vet, having previously worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tarzan. Conli sat down to discuss Disney’s first foray into the Marvel vaults.
Newsarama: Roy, you’ve got this wide, wide swath of Marvel properties available, so how do we come across Big Hero 6?
Roy Conli: Don Hall, one of the directors, is the one who came up with this concept and this idea. He was coming off of Winnie the Pooh right about the time that Marvel was acquired by Disney, and perfect for Don! The two things he loves most in the world are Disney animation and Marvel comics. He’s a great geek. So he went to [Executive Producer] John Lasseter and said he was interested in exploring this as a possibility. After about five minutes, John said, “go for it.” After that, it was going to the Marvel people, and they were very happy to sort of give us this property to play with and let us run with it.
Nrama: Across the street, there is that Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is more serious. This is a tad more whimsical. Is there another Marvel property in the pipeline, or one you'd personally have interest in?
Conli: You know, it’s interesting, because the way we develop things here are all director-based. What John Lasseter wants to do is have his directors really “own” the story. So it’s the directors who really provide the concepts. If one of the directors comes up with an idea that he really wants to try that’s Marvel, then it could happen again. But it’s really the directors who do it. I’m a producer. I don’t choose projects as much as I help support them.
Nrama: Is there a line on Marvel stuff you can or cannot do as a Disney animated feature? Does it have to do with what’s already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Conli: I love Thor. But we’re not going to make Thor, because Thor’s already in that Marvel Universe in live action.
But what Disney animation does is tell stories in a wide variety of worlds in a wide variety of ways. Look, Don Hall came off Winnie the Pooh to then do a superhero tale in San Fransokyo. So we’re always looking for different things, really starting with the world. Taking this into a more Disney animated world rather than the Marvel world gave us the freedom to explore things in a different way. Again, if the directors want to try a Marvel thing that can work, we’re happy to do that. But we’ll never become exclusively a superhero studio, either.
Nrama: I know a certain amount will have to be reaction-based and box office-based, but could there be a plan, a mandate, to take, say, one property unused by the live-action Marvel Universe every year, and make that a Disney animated feature?
Conli I highly doubt that. At Disney animated, we’re never really mandated to tell any story other than the one we really want to. And knock on wood, if this is a successful story, we won’t even be mandated to make a sequel. It really comes down, again, to the director’s vision and what story they really want to tell. We’re happy to revisit it, but that all comes down to a director.
—Big Hero 6 hits theaters November 7.