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‘Baymax!’ Provides an Rx for Humor and Compassion

The lovable healthcare robot from Disney’s Oscar-winning feature ‘Big Hero 6’ gets his own animated series, now streaming on Disney+.

Just when you thought it was safe to have a personal health issue, the affable, inflatable healthcare robot Baymax is back, and determined to help you – whether you want him to or not. A spinoff of Disney Television Animation’s Big Hero 6: The Series, which was a sequel to Disney’s 2014 Oscar-winning animated feature Big Hero 6, which was loosely based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name, the six-episode Baymax! follows the healthcare adventures of the eponymous “round, vinyl guy with two blinking eyes, whose only goal is to help and heal his patients,” in the words of creator Don Hall, who also directed the feature. From a sprained ankle to a severe food allergy and feline earbud mishap, Baymax has his work cut out for him as he moves among the residents of the fantastical city of San Fransokyo trying to do good.

While in Big Hero 6: The Series, Baymax was part of a superhero team led by 14-year-old tech genius Hiro Hamada (whose late brother Tadashi created the compassionate robot), each eight-minute episode of Baymax! is centered on a different health-related story in which the highly appealing character is featured.

“When we were in the room hashing out what these stories could be, we wanted to preserve the innocence of Baymax,” says producer Bradford Simonsen. “We knew he needed to come across as wanting to do the right thing in the most naïve, humorous ways. What makes a great story are characters that you love, worlds that you want to be in and, ultimately, a story that you think you know what’s happening, but in the end, it’s slightly different than what you expected.”

Adds Scott Adsit (30 Rock, Teenage Euthanasia), who provides the voice for the robot, “The great thing about Baymax is he approaches everything equally and he’s there only to provide help and support and knowledge. And that's what we all aspire to be, right? And that's what makes him so admirable. Because he is the best of all of us.”

Both producer Roy Conli and Dean Wellins – who directs a number of episodes, along with Dan Abraham, Mark Kennedy, and Lissa Treiman – are effusive in their praise of Adsit, who, Conli says, “brings a humanity to our robot.” For his part, Wellins emphasizes the naturalness of Adsit’s performance:

“I always feel like the funniest characters are the ones that never try to make anybody laugh,” he shares. “They’re inadvertently entertaining just by being themselves. Scott is an extremely talented comedic actor who can deliver real entertainment and real humor by being Baymax in the truest sense.”

Screenwriter Cirocco Dunlap, who wrote all six episodes, observes that the character’s complexity stems from his simplicity. “He’s so fun to write because he just says exactly what’s happening,” she says. “There’s no nuance or human reasoning behind it. If you’re embarrassed, he’ll say quite publicly that your heart rate is elevated and your face is sweating, which just adds to the embarrassment. He doesn’t assign meaning to emotion the way we do, but he will be with you every step of the way.”

Given Baymax’s inherent appeal and the proven popularity of the character in previous Big Hero 6 vehicles, the idea of creating a series around him could be seen as something of a no-brainer. On the other hand, making healthcare a central theme in an animated series isn’t exactly an intuitive decision.

“I wanted a different perspective to the series,” Hall recalls, “and I remembered watching medical procedurals as a kid. In an hour episode, there’s a patient who has an illness of some kind, and the compassionate doctors end up healing the patient. And I thought that would be a fun way to look at a show about Baymax.  The focus would be on a patient and their relationship.”

Dunlap thought it could be a timely and relevant theme – particularly because Baymax’s patients are a bit reluctant to accept his healing offers.

“There are a lot of reasons we might avoid treatment in real life,” she elaborates. “We’re scared, we don’t want to face reality, we can’t afford the consequences – the denial runs deep. And Baymax – since his goal is to make you healthy – doesn’t pause to let you catch up or prepare if his programming says getting better faster is the ideal outcome.”

While Dunlap, Hall, and the other creators of Baymax! have taken pains to ensure that the storylines and characters are thoroughly engaging, there’s also plenty to look at and enjoy in the series’ imaginative landscape, an inspired mashup of Tokyo and San Francisco that was first brought to life in the feature.

“We sent teams out to Tokyo to sketch and study the details there,” says producer Conli. “The same teams went to San Francisco to explore. What grew from that was a universal city that still blows me away today. The street pattern is San Francisco, but the design element is Tokyo. That world is vibrant and alive, and it still lives.”

Being able to reuse assets from the original production was a big plus, although, according to visual effects supervisor Mohit Kallianpur, it wasn’t without its challenges.

“When we started looking at this series, seven years had passed since Big Hero 6,” he says. “Technology changes rapidly, so everything that we’d done required a lot of effort to make it work in our current pipeline. Once we converted it, we had to test it and validate the data. If it didn’t work, we’d have to go back in and fix it.”

As for the unusual eight-minute format, Conli says that, while it was definitely new territory for many in the team, the smaller structure allowed them to have six episodes going at one time, and to polish each one to perfection.

“Each little episode really tells a story that is complete,” he observes. “And then you take those episodes together, and there’s a big arc in the whole series that really works.”

Further, Hall adds, part of the original intent in using a short format was to give new directors a chance to get their feet wet, a strategy that paid off in more ways than one.

“It allowed us to provide more directing opportunities,” he says, “and they just did such great work. It was very gratifying how it all turned out.”

Jon Hofferman's picture
Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline chart that makes a wonderful gift.