5 Things We Learned From Disney’s ‘Strange World’ Press Conference

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.

Disney's Strange World

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.”

Disney's Strange World

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.

Disney's Strange World

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.”

Disney's Strange World

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.”

Disney's Strange World

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.

Strange World Opens in Theaters on November 23, 2022

Disney's Strange World Poster

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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