Disney is known to have taken us to some weird and wondrous places over the past century, but its new film may be the, well, strangest yet. Strange World is the latest spectacular out of Disney’s animation studios, and while it may be inspired by the classic adventure films of old, the movie has a very important message for audiences today.
Speaking to Lifehacker Australia in an interview, Strange World director Don Hall, writer and co-director Qui Nguyen and producer Roy Conli expanded on their movie’s family dynamic and its important activist message.
Strange World follows the Clades, a legendary family of explorers who embark on a journey to a wild uncharted land in an effort to save their home. It’s a family that spans three generations, with Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his son Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) reuniting with their long-lost father and grandfather Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) during their travels.
To establish the generational difference between these three men, the filmmakers weren’t afraid to draw on their personal experiences.
“My dad is a farmer in Iowa, and Ethan’s story is very relatable to me. I was on the path of learning everything about the farm, and there was a certain point where I knew it wasn’t me and it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Hall said.
“Obviously, you love your father and you don’t want to disappoint, but you also have to be yourself and be true to yourself. So that one is directly lifted from my own personal experience.”
Nguyen said it was important to map the “generational differences” between the three Clades by embedding them in relatable real-world characteristics.
“Don and I are very much like Searcher – we’re very in that Gen X pocket, and, you know, Ethan is very reflective of a generation that’s very contemporary in the real world,” Nguyen explained.
“So I think it was it was easy to pull from that. It meant we made some choices to line that up. Even though our world had no video games, we still wanted Ethan, like our own kids, to be a gamer. So he’s a tabletop gamer playing this card game, ‘Primal Outpost’, to kind of give some reflections of things that we all can relate to.”
Adding to the strangeness of Strange World is a somewhat adorable new creature, Splat, who resembles a small blue blob with spindly limbs. While Splat has already won hearts in the trailers released so far, Nguyen and Hall stressed that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
“He has some surprising moments…” Nguyen said. “There’s versions of him, that you’ll discover throughout the film, that are not always so altruistic.”
“We just thought it would be more fun if Splat had motives that were maybe a little mysterious at times,” Hall added.
Like a lot of recent releases, a lot of Strange World’s production took place mid-pandemic, which the creatives admitted was challenging. Conli said it was the film’s strong theme that helped them all through it.
“I think Don came up with a very strong theme at the very top,” Conli said. “This one was quite amazing in that everyone embraced it and we just kept moving forward. It’s an important aspect of these stories.”
Along with that idea of family is an important theme of conservation, particularly in relation to climate change, which Hall said was “absolutely intentional”.
“It started maybe with climate change, but it kind of evolved in the early research,” Hall recounted. “Obviously climate change is a big deal. It is an existential threat that we are facing right now, but there’s (sic) other ones as well. So I wanted to broaden it so that it’s not just specific about climate change. It’s actually about a bigger question, which is; how do we live?”
“As human beings, there’s no escaping that we have a massive impact on this planet and the life forms that we share it with. So we have to wrestle with that question. We have to reconcile that question. You can’t run away from it.”
“That’s gonna be the challenge of my generation, my kids generation and generations beyond it. So to me there’s no bigger question to tackle and so that’s kind of where we started.”
Disney’s Strange World releases in cinemas on November 24.
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