“I always loved big adventure stories—the specific kind of adventure story where explorers find a hidden world that was heretofore unknown to them or anybody else,” says director Don Hall of Strange World, set in a vast, hidden, subterranean world where bizarre creatures, looming danger, and points unknown await a legendary family of explorers.
Strange World introduces a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog, and a slew of ravenous creatures. “This seriously strange world is actually an allegory for Planet Earth, says director Don Hall. “What started everything was just thinking about my sons and the world they’re going to inherit,” he says. “How is it different from what I inherited from my dad?”
Hall leaned into the idea of fathers and sons—how they don’t always see the world the same way. “My dad and I have a great relationship,” he says. “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 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.”
Searcher Clade is a brilliant family man—who, as a teenager, discovered a plant-based power source that changed the world. He built a successful enterprise growing, harvesting and distributing the crop alongside his wife and son. Searcher’s dad, Jaeger, set out at a young age to be the kind of explorer legends are made of. A statue in town confirms he achieved his goal, but lost during an expedition, nobody’s heard from him in decades. Searcher’s son, Ethan, is a happy 16-year-old with a great sense of humor and a decent work ethic (for a teenager). Ethan helps on the farm, but he’s not sure he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. The three Clades have huge differences that prove divisive—and at the same time, they have more in common than any of them is willing to admit.
Co-director and writer Qui Nguyen recalls early conversations with Hall about the story. “The thing that got me was when he said it’s about fathers and sons,” says Nguyen. “I am also a dad of two kids and I felt like that was exactly what I wanted to be doing. This is a story I needed and wanted to tell.
“We could relate to Jaeger and Searcher when it comes to our kids,” continued Nguyen. “There’s a push and pull between ambition and just being a dad. It’s something almost every artist here at Disney—anyone who’s chasing a big dream—would understand. A big reason why we do it is for them—and, man, we don’t want to lose focus of that. This is the story that I’m going through, the story that Don is going through and the story our characters are going through.”
Producer Roy Conli says the dynamic between the characters is the heart of the story. “Father-son relationships are so beautiful and so fraught simultaneously,” he says. “I came from the theater. My favorite play as a kid was ‘Death of a Salesman,’ which is a classic father-son tale. My father and I had an amazing relationship. I thought he was Superman until I was 15, when I realized he wasn’t Superman. We had a good 10 years of battle that fortunately, we came through. He was an amazing guy, and that father-son relationship is really special: it’s phenomenal and universal. I think fathers push their sons; sons reject their fathers, and then eventually they all come around.”
Strange World is an original action-packed comedy adventure in the spirit of pulp novels
“I always loved big adventure stories,” says Hall, “the specific kind of adventure story where explorers find a hidden world that was heretofore unknown to them or anybody else. And that goes back so far into late 1800s, early 1900s—Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That was sort of the birth of the big adventure story in novel form. ‘King Kong’ is a good filmic reference that had a group of explorers find a new hidden world. I wanted to evoke that in this movie.”
The character lineup in Strange World includes three generations of Clades plus two strong women who not only witness the journey but actually navigate it.
Director Don Hall, who’d just wrapped Raya and the Last Dragon with its more realistic-looking cast of characters, wanted to do something different. “I love French and Belgian comics,” he says. “And stylistically, it felt like a fun thing to pull into our Disney world that hadn’t quite been done. It dovetailed pretty well with this idea of the pulp adventure concept. So, we married those two styles together.”
Filmmakers Leaned into the Weird, Fun and Delightfully Warped World
Given the title Strange World, the look of the film could be nothing less than extraordinary, and the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios were determined to create something unexpected and awe-inspiring for audiences.
They started with pulp fiction—magazines that were published from 1896 to the late 1950s and were so named due to the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed.
Says associate production designer Justin Cram, “We all had fun designing the different parts of the strange world, taking inspiration from those old book covers. “Seeing what they thought the future might look like back in that era, whether it was spaceships or aliens. It was a great jumping-off point.”
DON HALL (Director) began his career at Walt Disney Animation Studios in June 1995 as a story apprentice on “Tarzan.” He served as a story artist on several development projects and productions, including “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Chicken Little” before becoming head of story for “Meet the Robinsons” and “The Princess and the Frog.” Hall made his directorial debut for Disney Animation’s “Winnie the Pooh” and went on to direct “Big Hero 6,” which won an Academy Award® for best-animated feature film. He then served as co-director on “Moana” and worked on several development projects before his role as director on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Hall graduated with a BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Iowa and a BFA in character animation from California Institute of the Arts. After graduating from Cal Arts, he returned to the campus as an instructor in advanced story development.
QUI NGUYEN (Co-Director/Writer) is a Vietnamese-American playwright and screenwriter, who previously wrote with Adele Lim the Academy Award®-nominated Walt Disney Animation Studios feature, “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
Known for his shows “Vietgone” and “She Kills Monsters,” Nguyen is an alumnus of Marvel Studios Writers Program and has also written for “Dispatches from Elsewhere,” “The Society,” “Incorporated” and “Peg+Cat,” for which he received a 2016 Daytime Emmy. He is also a co-founder of Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company of New York City—credited for being the “pioneers of geek theatre.”