by GRACE KANG
Frozen’s crystalline winter melts away beneath the San Fransokyo sun, as the same Disney team that created last year’s international blockbuster film releases its latest animated adventure, Big Hero 6, which hits theaters Nov. 7. This time, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams present a world of 3D-rendered robotics and vibrantly futuristic cityscapes as they re-envision superhero team Big Hero 6 from the Marvel Comics of the same name.
While the somewhat obscure 1998 comic featured a Japanese crime-busting team made up of seasoned secrets agents and former criminals, Big Hero 6 comes alive in this onscreen adventure as a motley team of youthful brainiacs, led by protagonist Hiro Hamada (played by Asian American actor Ryan Potter) and his huggable, supersized medical robot Baymax (Scott Adsit). When a mysterious figure poses a menace, Hiro and company are called to work through their fears, and with one another, in order to protect their home city.
KoreAm recently sat down at Disney Animation Studios in Burbank with the diverse vocal talents behind the Big Hero 6 characters, including Potter (Supah Ninjas) and Korean American actor Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who plays Tadashi, Hiro’s wise older brother and the creator of Baymax. Seated side by side, their clothes in a complementing neutral palette, hair neatly parted to the same side and donning easy grins, the actors certainly bore a brotherly vibe, as they ambled through a relaxed discussion about the range of qualities revealed in their onscreen characters.
“Tadashi, on the surface, is very laidback, which I think I am,” said Henney, to which Potter teasingly interjected, “No, you’re not!”
Big brother quickly shot back with, “Come on, you don’t make the bed at home.”
These intermittent bursts of verbal sparring drew merry brushstrokes over the picture of a close pair of siblings who have been at it for years. Henney added, “[Tadashi]’s very much sarcastic in the way he sort of gets Hiro to do the things he wants him to do. He uses sarcasm and irony, which I do a lot.”
In the film, the Hamada brothers are parentless, and Henney’s Tadashi plays as much a parenting role as a big brother one to Potter’s 14-year-old Hiro, who would love nothing more than to spend his days scamming underground robot fights. But Tadashi tests the limits of his little brother’s potential and imagination by introducing him to the gifted young individuals—and soon-to-be superheroes—at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Tadashi is a researcher.
Though the film packs in plenty of action, the theme of family is very much at the core of the film—with the brothers’ relationship, as well as that between Hiro and Baymax, central to that. There’s also the timeless idea of what makes a hero.
“I think sometimes we get lost in what the word ‘hero’ or ‘superhero’ is,” said Henney. “[With Tadashi] it’s just about being a good person and a good brother.”
For Potter, he said it was his character’s resolve. “When he sets his mind on something, he gets it done. That’s a trait you see in a lot of superheroes, but Hiro shows just a little bit more of that,” said the actor.
Though Potter and Henney portray brothers onscreen, they say that it was after recording their parts for the animated film—which often has individual actors working alone in a sound booth—that their off-screen apparently dynamic kicked off.
“We’ve moved in together. We’ve actually adopted a few dogs together, we’re signing up for the local YMCA together … what? No,” Potter said, laughing. “It’s funny because we’ve been working together for a year-and-a-half now, but we haven’t. When I met [Daniel Henney] for the first time, I was like, man, there’s Tadashi. Daniel is Tadashi.”
Henney affirmed, “We met at dinner, and it just felt like we were meant to have played these parts. It felt right, like we had a connection, for sure.”
Big Hero 6‘s directors have said that every cast member seemed perfectly matched for their roles. Rounding out the diverse cast are Jamie Chung (Once Upon a Time), who plays surly speed demon GoGo Tomago; Damon Wayans, Jr. (Let’s Be Cops), who plays high-strung perfectionist Wasabi; Génesis Rodríguez (The Last Stand), who is the brilliant and bubbly Honey Lemon; and T.J. Miller (How To Train Your Dragon), who voices part-time mascot/full-time nerd Fred. Maya Randolph also stars in the film as Aunt Cass, who has been the Hamada brothers’ guardian after the death of their parents.
“When you simply look at the cast, you see how diverse the cast is,” said Potter. “And the diversity onscreen is something we haven’t seen before [in an animated film].”
Another never-before-seen feature from Disney is the combined use of innovative lighting and character-generation software, Hyperion and Denizen respectively, which were incorporated in the realization of the fictitious setting of San Fransokyo, a melding of Tokyo (where the original comic took place) and San Francisco.
Cast member and San Francisco native Jamie Chung marveled at the hybrid city’s design. “The script briefly describes the city, but I had zero idea the detail and how colorful and beautiful it really became,” said the Korean American actress. “I love the attention to all of the San Francisco landmarks—you have the Transamerica building, the Golden Gate Bridge and Treasure Island and Broadway Street and Little Tokyo.”
Chung also had high praise for her animated alter ego GoGo Tomago, who functions as the silent backbone of the Big Hero 6 team. “She’s a woman that believes that actions speak louder than words. She’s kind of the first one really to step up and try to convince the guys that they should turn into Big Hero 6,” she said.
Despite the unique array of teen heroes like Hiro and Gogo Tomago featured in the film, Chung predicted Baymax will likely steal the spotlight and that kids will soon be clamoring over toys created in the inflatable nurse robot’s likeness. “I think everyone [will want] Baymax. It’s the one that everyone wants, but there’s only like two in the batch, and it just drives you crazy,” she said, as she clenched her firsts to emphasize her zeal. (We’re unsure of whether for candy or cute robots.)
On a more serious note, Potter, who is of half-Japanese descent, expressed his excitement over the opportunity to portray a Disney protagonist who is also half-Japanese. “If you’re going to call the United States the melting pot of the world, you’re going to need films and television to represent that,” he said. “All the mixed-race kids are going to be able to see this film and go, ‘Wow, I see myself up there.’”
Here’s a peek at Big Hero 6, which hits theaters Nov. 7.
All images: © 2014 Disney