By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The newest Marvel superhero to reach the big screen does not have the rugged good looks of Iron Man, the muscular physique of Captain America or a cape and hammer like Thor.
But that is not stopping Walt Disney Co's Disney Animation from hoping that Baymax, the inflatable oversized waddling robot of upcoming film "Big Hero 6," becomes the studio's very own "Iron Man" and launches a new animated superhero world.
The Disney Animation studio is coming off the smash Oscar-winning hit "Frozen," a tale of two princesses that became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time with $1.3 billion in global ticket sales. Now it hopes to find success with Friday's release of "Big Hero 6," a film based on a little-known Marvel comic book of the same name.
"Iron Man" helped "turn the ship as far as people taking a chance into science fiction and fantasy," said Don Hall, who co-directed "Big Hero 6" with Chris Williams.
Tapping into the growing technology scene and young innovators, Williams said he hoped audiences would connect with a new band of superheroes comprised of smart tech nerds who harness their scientific knowledge, led by teen prodigy Hiro.
And then there is Baymax, a childlike, huggable healthcare robot inspired by a vinyl robotic arm the directors saw at Carnegie Mellon's research labs.
"Young people form robotics teams these days," said Williams. "There does feel like there's a renewed or growing interest in the young engineering side."
"Big Hero 6" is expected to generate $53 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales over its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com.
The film follows Hiro in the city of Sanfransokyo, a near-futuristic imagining of San Francisco melded with Tokyo.
From the floating wind turbines painted in the style of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films and characters inspired by anime, to finding Baymax's face in the two holes connected by a line in small Japanese bells, Japanese influences are woven into the Disney aesthetic.
To create Sanfransokyo, Disney Animation's chief technology officer Andy Hendrickson devised software to map Tokyo-style buildings over the current layout of San Francisco.
As Hiro enters a competition to win a place at the local technology college at the behest of his older brother Tadashi, tragedy strikes and Tadashi is suddenly killed.
Tadashi's prototype robot Baymax comforts Hiro and joins him and his college friends to become superheroes using their scientific knowledge. They band together to take down a Kabuki-masked villain trying to take over the city with microbots.
Disney films haven't shied away from dealing with death, such as the mother doe in "Bambi" or Simba's father in "The Lion King." Those films helped the directors introduce death as a catalyst for their superhero origin story.
"It's hard for us to talk about who Hiro is and Baymax is without talking about the brother who connects them," Hall said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Lisa Richwine and James Dalgleish)