There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of Big Hero 6. Disney’s had three gigantic hits in a row with Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph and Frozen (which recently broke the half-billion mark at the box office, and is attracting ‘snowballing’ and ‘avalanche’ puns at roughly the speed of sound). On top of that, the delay of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur until 2015 means that Big Hero 6 is the only major animated feature the House of Mouse will put out next year. And on top of that, Big Hero 6 is the first time Disney has borrowed from its recently-acquired Marvel Comics library for something other than theme parks or merchandise – the property was originally a Marvel comic that Disney pilfered for its own devices.
So as long as Big Hero 6 can satisfy Marvel fans, dejected Pixar fans and the teeming hordes still humming “Let it Go” from Frozen, it’ll be a success. And with all those expectations in mind, Disney has just attached a co-director to the film: Chris Williams. Williams’ most recent (and only) co-directing gig was on another Disney picture, Bolt, for which he also wrote the screenplay; his resume also holds story credits for The Emperor’s New Groove, Mulan and Brother Bear. And that’s basically it. At first glance, Williams and Big Hero 6 don’t exactly match up. The latest Disney pic follows a team of eclectic superheroes: a woman with an inter-dimensional handbag, a sushi chef with super-knives and a fanboy who can, when necessary, balloon up into a Godzilla-sized monster. One might think Rich Moore, director of the manic, high-tech Wreck-it-Ralph, might be a better pick for something that’s sure to be manic and high-tech.
But plucking a director from the reasonably forgettable Bolt is actually a genius move. For one, Disney has an outstanding track record with previous Bolt co-directors; the last time it plucked a filmmaker from the talking-dog-learns-life-is-not-a-TV-show film, that filmmaker was Byron Howard, and the film he was plucked for was Tangled. And we all know how that turned out. The same applies to Big Hero 6‘s previous director (and now co-director) Don Hall, whose only previous directing work was 2011’s Winnie The Pooh. Again, Disney’s had a recent success re-using two other members of the Winnie the Pooh team – Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the songs for Pooh and did the same for Frozen. And again, we all know how that turned out.
With Big Hero 6, it seems like Disney is playing the long game, and angling to get itself back in another renaissance period. Back in its ’90s heyday, the studio had a stable of directing partners it continually used and re-used. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale headed up Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. John Musker and Ron Clements knocked out a string of hits with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Hercules. Pixar’s massive success in the last decade was due to a similar strategy- cultivating talent and locking it down within a single studio. And Hall and Williams aren’t the only pair in the works right now, as the studio’s begun fast-tracking a few other teams. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are the newest pair, starting as screenwriters on Wreck-it-Ralph, and graduating to director status for Frozen. The studio’s even managed to get Musker and Clements back for Moana, a Disney Princess musical set in ancient Polynesia.
So perhaps Hall and Williams’ previous experience doesn’t lend them to a hyperactive movie about kooky superheroes in the bright neon world of San Fransokyo. But Disney may have far bigger plans for these two than just magical purse sushi chef robots, so I wouldn’t worry too much. Besides, any problems that might creep up are sure to be soothed by Disney’s billions and billions of dollars.
(And if you’ve been wondering, “who the hell is the hulking Nordic tradesman?” here’s the answer: it’s Williams, who voiced Oaken, the unexpectedly huge shop owner with limited winter stock, in Frozen.)