Will ‘Big Hero 6’ Skew Towards a Younger Audience?


What better follow-up to ice princesses than superheroes? The first teaser trailer for Big Hero 6, Disney’s first animated feature since Frozen stormed its way into our hearts and ears last year, was released on Thursday, and it seems the studio is aiming to give superheroes an adorable makeover. The film follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and his robot Baymax, who team up with a group of crime fighters and fellow child geniuses to protect their fictional city of San Fransoyko. The Big Hero 6 comics books are one of Marvel’s more obscure brands, designed as a mini-series in 1998, and because it’s not well-known to people who aren’t hardcore comic book readers, Disney Animation has a bit more freedom to play around with the source material in their first animated adaptation of Marvel comic. 

And the studio used that freedom to revamp the plot and several characters to tell a different, more Disney-esque story. The original comics centered on a group of heroes who were recruited by the Japanese government to become a state-sanctioned band of heroes. Big Hero 6 was headed up by Silver Samurai, a freelance hero and part-time body guard and Sunfire, the country’s most famous superhero and mutant, neither of whom are set to appear in Disney’s film. Though many of the storylines and artwork are aimed at teenagers – and the characters themselves are mostly teens  there are plenty of adult-friendly elements to the books, including Honey Lemon’s skimpy costume, her relationship with Hiro, and Baymax’s “special relationship” with Hiro’s mother, which came about as the result of Hiro using his father’s brain to help program the robot. 

The film, however, appears to be explicitly targeting a younger demographic, from again down the characters to playing up the film’s connections to Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph over its Marvel origins. The animators also did away with the anime influences of the comics in favor of art reminiscent of Wreck-It Ralph and Bolt, which allows Disney to further put its stamp on the project. Though many of these changes were likely the result of the studio attempting to establish Big Hero 6 as its own property, they also help market the film towards a younger audience, which is Disney’s primary target. 

A group of 6 heroes are recruited to protect the nation in 'Big Hero 6'.

In many ways, the studio is smart to rework the source material for a younger audience. Designing the film to skew towards a younger audience opens up the range of people who will potentially come see a film – after all, age has never prevented people from seeing animated films – which results in bigger potential box office returns for the studio. By aging Big Hero 6 down, Disney is able to take a comic that appealed to a wide range of readers, and turn it into a true “all ages” experience. Besides, targeting children not only brings in bigger tickets sales, thanks to the adults who need to accompany them to the theater, but it also allows them to advertise both Iron Man and Baymax merchandise to the same demographic. 

Of course, rebranding a property for a younger audience means that changes need to be made to the original comics in order to make things more family friendly, which means that things are likely to get left out. The Big Hero 6 comics weren’t explicitly aimed at an adult audience, and the cast of teenagers makes it easier to revamp for a younger generation. The biggest losses the series will suffer in its move to the big screen are the absence of Silver Samurai and Sunfire, who were the original leaders of the gang. Since they were the most famous characters in the series, it’s a big move to drop them completely, but since both left the Big Hero 6 team in the comics, leaving Hiro in charge, the writers have pre-existing stories and relationship to drawn on for the movie without them. As the oldest members of Big Hero 6, they don’t necessarily fit in with Disney’s concept of a team of children fighting crime, and since Sunfire is also part of the X-Men universe, there may have also been some contractual issues at play. 

In the end, though, Big Hero 6 probably won’t need its two oldest members in order to be successful. By creating an entirely new narrative inspired by the comics, Disney can find different ways to ensure that the best parts of Big Hero 6 stays intact on screen, while still having the freedom to drop the elements they deem superfluous. It’s hard to tell from just the teaser how those changes will affect the film, although the drastic change in tone and target audience does seem to suggest that not much will be lost when Big Hero 6 hits theaters on November 7.