JoBlo Gets an Early Look at Disney’s Strange World

Who doesn’t love a good adventure? Frankly, after a couple of unusual years, being in a room with other journalists in-person and such at the same time feels like one. Yet something was happening at Disney Animation in Burbank, and I was thrilled to be a part of it. In the upcoming animated feature film Strange World (which just released a brand-new trailer), Disney hopes to create another magical adventure for all ages. And with an impressive cast, and Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Raya and the Last Dragon) and his co-director/writer Qui Nguyen (co-writer on Raya and the Last Dragon), they had something to celebrate. Thus, I recently had the opportunity to check out footage from the upcoming film. And it was a treat.

Before we jumped into the presentation, we were given a brief synopsis from Mr. Hall, Mr. Nguyen, and producer Roy Conli. The story revolves around a family of explorers. They include Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and their son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Having grown up with an explorer for a father, the legendary Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), Searcher has seemingly found his path. Instead of traveling the world, he has become a farmer, and yet, his son has expressed interest in finding a different direction in life, like father, like son.

Back when Searcher was merely a teenager, he discovered something special. The young lad found a plant-based power source. It changed the world. From there, the spirited young man started a family, built a successful company, and is now a happy husband and father with a rambunctious teen of his own. His dad, however, is nonexistent in his life and has been missing for some time. After wanting to become a legendary explorer, Jaeger went on an adventure and never came home. While he left an impression on the town – they even put up a monument in his honor – this statue is only a vague memory for Searcher.

Ultimately, Strange World leads to what the title suggests, strange and exciting new worlds. After Searcher finds that there’s a problem with the power source, he must make an effort to discover the issue. It leads Searcher and his family to head out into the wild, hoping to save the valuable source. While there, they will feast their eyes on wondrous new worlds, including creatures galore. And along the journey, the Clades bring along a faithful three-legged dog and find a blob called Splat. And maybe, just maybe, a family reunion of sorts is in store for Searcher.

The group gathered together for footage from Strange World courtesy of the film’s directors. The animation in question is quite beautiful. The scenes included a charming introduction to Ethan and his family. Yet the fun comes when they head out into brand new territory. The world created is impressively stunning. When they ultimately find themselves at the desired location, the world appears to exist like deep below the ocean blue. Except this fantastic world has no water. It even features tentacled beasts that you should most definitely avoid. With influences that range from Raiders of the Lost Ark to ocean wildlife, there is much to delight in as a viewer.

As gorgeous as the world is, I can already tell I’ll connect to the father/son aspect of the film. In one of the most charming scenes we witnessed, we get a glimpse of Searcher finally finding his father. It’s funny, yet it also adds a sweetness to it. The scene was so charming, and both Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid appear to be perfect choices to play this family dynamic. Although, as a fan of Mr. Gyllenhaal, I had the opportunity to take my shot at playing Searcher in this particular scene – and frankly, I feel pretty good about it. I’m getting ahead of myself; more on that momentarily.

After watching the footage, we took a trip into the making of the film. The presentation not only included Don Hall, Qui Nguyen, and Roy Conli. We also heard from Mehrdad Isvandi (Production Designer), Sean Jenkins (Head of Environments), Amy Smeed, and Justin Sklar (both Head of Animation). After discussing the scenes presented, they opened the floor to questions about the film and the process of bringing Strange World to the big screen.

When it came to the aquatic nature of the story, the filmmaker wanted to create something unique. They “stripped most of the earth tones and the greens” from the color palate. The images you see are primarily reds, magentas, and oranges. When discussing the film, Hall added that “we had the opportunity to create this world that is completely imaginary. There were no parameters. Early on, it was just people bringing in weird stuff, and some of it was aquatic. But those big, lumbering, almost Brontasauraus-like creatures are a character that was based on sausages.”

Sausages? And a little bit of Indiana Jones, perhaps? That was quite the description, and frankly, dead on accurate as to what I witnessed. And speaking of strange things, a young man in the audience asked about a character that is sure to be a favorite for fans. Instantly, many will automatically be charmed by Splat. The joke made that even though Alan Tudyk is one of the voice actors in the film, he did not make the sounds of Splat. That was all sound impressively sound design. Hall went on to talk about the gob of a creature with no face.

“Similar, I wouldn’t say it’s a trope of these movies, but in many of these movies, the explorers find an ally in this world. All right, well, who is going to be that ally? I love the idea of, like, for Baymax, stripping away everything, a blank slate. He’s got two little dots for eyes, and that’s kind of it. I wanted to go even further with this one and say okay, you get no face, and let’s see what they can do. I knew the creative potential of our animators, who are just the best in the world. And I knew we could take something that is really nebulous and weird and let them run with it.”

As adorable as the gelatinous blob is, it also helps that the world they’ve created is so alarmingly beautiful. With massive airships floating in the sky, schools of aquatic creatures seemingly migrating in the air, and tentacled beasties that may be a little terrifying to some. The large monstrous creatures certainly felt a little bit of Lovecraftian influence – however, that is apparently just a coincidence. Even still, the gorgeous animation and the look of the film are inspired. You’ve never seen anything like this regarding animated on-screen fables.

The engaging Mehrdad Isvandi opened up about creating the environment, including the world of Avalonia. He discussed creating the layers of the world and the mountainous regions surrounding the city. While the epic big-screen adventures came into play, they dealt with the challenge of creating something that was wholly and completely original. From the Clade farm to the massive wall of mountains surrounding the city, it’s impressive. Yet it’s not even close to the other world our heroes find themselves in. If you remember the old cliffhangers from back in the day, the look of this film feels very much like that energy.

And then there is the airship, a “really big Airship.” Hall continued, “ it was called the Venture. It’s 200 feet long, 130 feet tall, and honestly, it’s its own world. Usually, when we build things, we’ll build for a practical movie; we’ll build an inside set that barely fits anything. Eventually, we built a full ship, a full vehicle. You can go inside the cockpit; you can go into the main areas of the airship. We knew we were going to be on it for quite a while. We would need to go inside, outside, and shoot wherever we needed to.”

The world created here is quite creative, and a seemingly impressive blend of sci-fi, adventure, and the charming dynamic of the family has me curious for what’s to come. And with a cast that includes Gyllenhaal, Young-White, Union, Quaid, Tudyk, and the impressive Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, Disney may have something magical on their hands. From the footage shown and the clear personal touch of Hall’s own relationship with his father and sons.

“My dad and I have a great relationship. He is a farmer, and I grew up helping out. But when I was 14 years old, it all changed. Suddenly, I was planting and doing more high-level stuff that I just didn’t want to do. It wasn’t me. It all turned out fine, but I always remembered that and thought it would be interesting to explore father/son relationships and the kind of expectations we put on our kids – intentionally or unintentionally.”

With a vital family element, the animation we witnessed brought a touch of magic to the feature. And speaking of magic, the journalists in attendance were offered a treat after the presentation. We were allowed to step into this Strange World in a fun way. Everyone in attendance experienced time in the ADR booth to pick a line of dialogue from a scene featuring Searcher and Jaeger. Most picked something comical, but I wanted to bring on the drama. And yes, I attempted to give my man Gyllenhaal a run for his money. You can check this out a little closer to the release date, and of course, get ready for when Strange World inhabits theatres this coming November 23rd. Just in time for the holiday.

Special thanks to everyone at Disney Animation for allowing us to participate in a grand adventure. We can’t wait to bring you more from the upcoming animated tale.


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.