On Monday, November 14th, the cast and crew of Disney’s Strange World – director Don Hall, co-director and writer Qui Nguyen, producer Roy Conli, Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, Dennis Quaid, and Jaboukie Young-White – sat down for a virtual press conference with Rotten Tomatoes’ Jacqueline Coley to answer questions about the Journey to the Center of the Earth-esque sci-fi action adventure comedy, its many inspirations, and its story’s importance, and these are the five key things we learned from their discussion.
1. It All Starts With The Family
Despite simply appearing as a new “Disney fantasy adventure” on the surface, there’s more to Strange World than meets the eye, with director Don Hall noting how the film started with him thinking about his kids, and “what kind of world they’re gonna inherit.” Thus, he set off to “tell a story that speaks to that,” and one “that speaks to how we become good ancestors,” following this theme across three generations – while additionally delving into the long-lasting effects of generational trauma and the errors of said ancestors as well – and then “[telling] it through the lens of [a] fun pulp action-adventure story.”
2. The Story Is Culturally Specific
In her second question, Coley noted how, though Strange World is a universal film, it also feels “inherently authentic within POC communities” too, particularly when tackling the “expectations of being young, talented, and maybe ‘the first person'” in your “community” to do something. Co-director and writer Qui Nguyen stated that this was no accident, as their “team is super diverse at Disney,” and they “really wanted a film that reflected the world that we actually lived in.” Rather than “[making the characters] all blue or something,” as some animated films would, these creatives wanted a cast that looked like it could fit in society today, and subsequently include their specific life experiences accordingly.
3. These Characters Were Developed Over Years
In discussing how he developed the character of Searcher throughout the film’s production – and how it differed from his live-action work – Jake Gyllenhaal said how it was a gradual development that occurred over the “year plus [they] were working with [the crew],” and how the crew was very open to the actors “bringing [themselves]” to these roles. Elaborating on this, Gyllenhaal said, “And little do you know all of the animators are starting to watch your face, watch your movement, watch your facial expressions. And the character slowly does become you as you become it in this odd, extraordinary transformation.”
4. Jaboukie Young-White’s Ethan is a Canonically Queer Character
Disney is quietly making history with Strange World as, one of the main characters – Jaboukie Young-White’s Ethan (the son of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Searcher Clade and grandson of Dennis Quaid’s Jaeger Clade) – is canonically queer. However, Young-White went on to specify what makes this character even more special beyond the mere fact of his sexuality, stating, “It’s not a story about him coming out. It’s not a story about him trying to find acceptance for his sexuality. It’s just Ethan coming into himself wholly, fully, and in an environment that is ready to support him. And I think in any medium, that’s really interesting. And in animation, that’s huge.”
5. Strange World is Inspired by 1950s Pulp Fiction, Jules Verne, and More
Describing the classic adventure films, books, and magazines that inspired him, director Don Hall explained that he “did a lot of research at the beginning,” drawing not just on the age-old stories from Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but also iconic adventure and monster movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Kong. However, co-writer/director Qui Nguyen brought additional – and semi-unexpected – inspiration to the film by drawing on the family dynamics found in films like National Lampoon’s vacation and Little Miss Sunshine to fully flesh out the Clades.