LOS ANGELES - The huge cuddly white robot in "Big Hero 6" could hardly be less like a typical Marvel superhero -- and yet the Michelin man-style star could be a sure winner for studio giant Disney.
The movie, to be released on Friday in the United States, is Disney's first based on Marvel comic book characters since it bought Marvel Entertainment Inc. in 2009.
Set in fictional San Fransokyo, the Japanese-themed film tells the story of young Hiro Hamada, a robot-obsessed nerd who is devastated when his older brother Tadashi dies in an accident.
Baymax is the inflatable robot Tadashi was working on before his death. He is designed to care for sick humans, which he promptly does for the depressed teenager.
Along with six friends, Hiro and Bymax embark on a dangerous mission to hunt down the thief who stole Hiro's latest creation: tiny microbots which can form themselves into any shape and be controlled telephathically.
Hiro's friends are voiced by a star-studded cast, with Jamie Chung voicing for GoGo Tamago, Damon Wayans Jr for Wasabi, Genesis Rodriguez for Honey Lemon and T.J. Miller for Fred.
The movie is directed by Don Hall, whose past credits include "Winnie the Pooh," and Chris Williams, who co-directed "Bolt."
It is produced in part by the team which won Disney's first animated Oscar with princess blockbuster "Frozen."
Manga, karate and kabuki
The filmmakers submerged themselves in the world of manga, karate and kabuki theatre to create "Big Hero 6," and the cast is clearly proud of what they have made.
"It's nice to see two very strong male Asian protagonists, characters, in an American production," said Daniel Henney, who voices Tadashi and whose mother is American-Korean.
"It makes me very proud because for a long time I feel like we can be misrepresented at times in the media, and this movie is not doing that."
At a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles before the film's release, the cast underlined the strength of both its male and female characters.
"It's very empowering for little girls. I remember I was a Disney princess my whole life... I was one of them, I wanted to be a part of that world," said Rodriguez.
"I hope that this world is a little bit more attainable for them. These kinds of skills are realistic for a girl to want to be like."
The film also unashamedly takes the side of tech geeks.
"These kids are not born with any superpowers, they're just born like any normal kid. But they are just very studious and they fall in love with science," Rodriguez added.
"They have very curious minds... so I hope that inspires kids to want to be curious and to want to explore the science and technology and to want to create and invent something new," she said.
The band of diminutive heroes eventually hunts down the evil thief, but not without some plot twists, and plenty of cute action involving the bumbling Baymax, voiced by Scott Adsit.
Audience in preview screenings have been won over -- the movie has a whopping 98 per cent approval rating on film review site Rotten Tomatoes, while 87 per cent of critics are positive.
"East meets West to immensely satisfying effect in the vibrant mash-up of an animated romp," said the Hollywood Reporter.
Others were equally as glowing.
"It's a movie that's as fun to watch as it is funny," said the Washington Post.
"(It) is fresh and inventive enough in every important way... to satisfy even the most jaded animation fan."