Hiro Hamada transforms his closest companion, a robot named Baymax, into a high-tech hero in the box office-topping “Big Hero 6”. (DISNEY ANIMATION vis Reuters)

 

KNEW IT.

“Big Hero 6” is just too good, with too much all-ages appeal, not to have won its debut weekend. It’s so well-crafted, and in several scenes so emotionally affecting, that a few years back, this might have even been created as a Pixar film — if Disney weren’t so consciously trying to balance its run of huge “princess” hits with a boy-meets-robot superhero story that’s packed with as much action as the studio’s “Wreck-It Ralph.”

It didn’t hurt, of course, that Christopher Nolan’s space opus “Interstellar” opened earlier in the week, aiming to get a jump on the stiff competition and ride its hype sooner.

“Big Hero 6” — which is based on a short-lived Marvel comic series and Chris Claremont’s follow-up — won the weekend box office by grossing $56.2-million in is domestic debut, according to studio estimates released Sunday; final numbers are due Monday.

“They have been on a quite a roll,” Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis said of Disney Animation Studios, reports Variety. “They’re in a creative renaissance.”

“Big Hero 6” — which has both Godzilla and X-Men in its creative veins — is Disney’s first animated film born of the company’s $4-billion purchase of Marvel in 2009.

It wasn’t so long ago that Disney executives were going to parades and noticing that most all the recent hit characters were specifically Pixar creations; the Mouse House’s legendary animation studio had lost its way, if not its mojo. Since then, though, Disney and Pixar are more than corporate cousins; they share the leadership and vision of Pixar co-founder John Lasseter — who, it was announced this week, will direct Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” due in 2017.

“Big Hero 6” is set in an aesthetically beautiful blend of San Francisco and Tokyo — which seems to nod in part to Japanese animation’s profound influence on the Bay Area-based Pixar. In 2009, Lasseter even brought Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki to San Diego Comic-Con, where he introduced the Japanese master (“Spirited Away,” “Ponyo”) to several of us reporters during a sit-down and told us what a beacon of inspiration and revelation Miyazaki had long been to him.

So it was fitting that Saturday night, it was Lasseter who came to praise Miyazaki in Hollywood, as the Japanese filmmaker received an honorary Oscar — the Governors Award. Speaking through a translator, Miyazaki said that he feels “lucky to be part of the last era when we can make films with paper, pencils and film,” according to Variety.

Lasseter worships the pencil-and-film era, of course, but he is also the man who had to leave Disney once (in the ’80s) to try — in league with Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs —  to pull the animation industry toward its new digital dawning. He was executive producer on “Big Hero 6,” which seems to have in its DNA the double helix of classic storytelling and digital innovation.

FUN WITH NUMBERS

* On “Big Hero 6’s” tail was “Interstellar” — second with $50-million for its debut weekend. If that final number doesn’t dip Monday, this will mark only the fourth time that two films have topped $50-million in the same weekend, according to industry observers. (“Interstellar” had $51.2-million for the week in domestic total.)

* “Interstellar,” which stars recent Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, has grossed $132.2-million worldwide, leading the foreign market for the weekend. “Big Hero 6” has grossed nearly $80-million globally. Both “Big Hero 6” and “Interstellar” had reported budgets of $165-million.

* “Big Hero 6’s” opening topped the domestic debuts of recent Disney hits “Wreck-It Ralph” ($49-million) and “Tangled” ($48.8-million). (“Frozen” had a limited debut — before opening wide to $67-million.)

* “22 Jump Street” is the only film this year to open north of $55-million domestically that doesn’t have ties to comics or animation.