REVIEW and INTERVIEW: Strange World

The new Disney movie is a fantastical, environmental adventure story about families and the future—we speak to the people who worked on it to find out how they invented this new world
Searcher, Jaeger, Meridian, Callisto, and Ethan all have their hands full in the new film Strange World. (Disney)

Do you love adventure? How about discovering unknown worlds and creatures?

These are things that have driven explorers since the beginning of time. And that's at the heart of the new Disney film, Strange World, which opens in theatres today.

This animated adventure follows a family of explorers, the Clades, who are determined to discover what lies beyond the tall mountains that surround their home, Avalonia.

Well, at least that is the plan according to father, Jaeger Clade. Jaeger is tall, broad, and heroic. The perfect explorer, whose bravery is unparalleled. But his son, Searcher, has yet to follow in his famous father's footsteps.

Searcher is shy and thoughtful. He just wants to grow and care for things. When Searcher comes across a mysterious, glowing plant, he and his dad have a major disagreement over what to do next. Searcher wants to take the plant home to help Avalonia. Jaeger wants to keep exploring and be the first Avalonian to get past the mountains.

And so father and son part ways ...

Much stranger things

"What IS this place?" wonder Ethan and Searcher Clade as they enter a new realm. (Disney)

Strange World really gets going 25 years later. Searcher has his own family with wife, Meridian, and son, Ethan. They are farmers and their only crop is that plant that he brought back as a teenager, which he called pando. Pando is full of electricity, and the Avalonians use it like batteries to power everything in their society.

But then, pando starts to mysteriously become sick. Avalonia's president, Callisto Mal, arrives on Searcher's doorstep with a request. Searcher must go with her back to where pando was first found to unravel the mystery of why their only source of power is dying. And of course, their adventure happens to attract a pair of stowaways in Ethan and their dog, Legend.

What follows is a reunion of three generations of Clade, each with three very different ideas on how to live, and an entirely new world that is well beyond anything the Avalonians ever dreamed existed!

How should we live?

Jaeger and Searcher don't really understand the point of Ethan's favourite game, Primal Outpost. (Disney)

Strange World has plenty of thrills, excitement, and surprises. The region that the Clades encounter feels both alien and beautiful, full of interesting creatures . 'Trees' that walk! 'Animals' that plants seeds! 'Rocks' that fly or come to life in a flurry of tentacles!

But the film is about more than just adventure. At its core, the film is all about asking us, What is the best way to live in harmony with the world around us?

Ethan's favourite game is a role playing card game called Primal Outpost. Players must find a way to not defeat monsters or conquer evil, but to keep as many things in the world alive and surviving in harmony. As his grandfather and father argue about which one of them is right—the explorer or the farmer—Ethan wonders about whether there is another way to solve Avalonia's pando problem.

Watch the trailer below. Then keep on reading to hear from some of the creators of this amazing new film!

Speaking about Strange World

As a special treat, we have interviews with some people who worked on Strange World.

First, to answer questions on how they made the mind-blowing regions come to life, we spoke with production designer Mehrdad Isvandi and head of environments, Sean Jenkins.

OWLconnected: Pleased to meet you both! Sean what exactly is a head of environments?

Sean Jenkins: I lead the environments team, and the environments team builds the world that you see on screen.

OC: Cool! That’s a big job in a movie like this.

SJ: Yeah, we create the shapes, the textures, and the colour for the world.

OC: How do you get a job like that?

SJ: I studied engineering and computer science in college, but had always loved movies. So I was able to apply my technical skill to moviemaking.

OC: Mehrdad, how did you get into animation?

Mehrdad Isvandi: From the time that I was a little kid, I like painting and I liked movies. You marry those together and you get animation—painting that changes every frame! It was a logical choice! (laughs)

Ethan forms a bond with an odd new creature, whom he names Splat. Splat is a lot of fun! (Disney)

OC: The differences between plant, animal, rock are really blurred in this movie. It’s really cool and, well, strange!

MI: That was the challenging part. In the real world, you have animals, sky, trees, mountains. And then when you get to Strange World, everything is new. We had to build everything from scratch.

SJ: One of the other challenges was just naming things! A lot of the things that we called ‘plants’, didn’t necessarily look like plants, they just served the same purpose [as plants in our world]. We had things called Bubble Shrubs, Gummy Shrooms, the Whoopie Cushion Plant! We just started naming them what they kind of looked like.

OC: The ‘highways’ through Strange World are these flowing rivers of red fish-things. How did you come up with those?

SJ: Things like that start as storyboards [from the writer and director]. Story-wise, they had come up with this idea: “They’re going to use this ‘stream’ to get across the world.” When we saw that, it’s really, really hard to do in animation! To have characters run on top of other characters! We had a lot of conversations: “Okay, how are we actually going to be able to do that?”

MI: Those streams, and all of the creatures in the movie, the second time you see the movie, it will have an extra layer of meaning.

OC: A few of these creatures reminded me of prehistoric lifeforms from millions of years ago. Were you thinking of any when you designed them?

SJ: There is a creature we called a Transportasaurus, which looks like a dinosaur. But the references came from all over the place.

MI: Yeah, the influences came all the way from microscopic life to pterodactyls to Triceratops. I’m a big sucker for movies that have adventure, and dinosaurs, and a big airship. I want to see that movie!

Thanks, Mehrdad and Sean. So cool! Next, we spoke to the film's director and creator, Don Hall, and the writer and co-director, Qui Nguyen. They talked about what inspired them to make the movie, and what they hope it gets viewers thinking about.

Jaeger arrives as a hero to save his son and grandson. But not everything around them is as it seems. (Disney)

OC: This film is a big, classic adventure movie. Qui, what were some of your favourite adventure movies as a kid?

Qui Nquyen: Well both Don and I are both inspired by a lot of George Lucas and Spielberg films, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, but I’m also a big fan of cartoons. And influences from that ended up in characters like Splat and Legend in this film. They bring me so much joy.

Don Hall: We started out wanting to do an adventure story—where a group of explorers find a hidden world. So I also did a lot of reading of earlier adventure stories, like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

OC: But of course, this is not just any old adventure movie. Green tech, renewable energy, sustainability, these things are a big part of Strange World, aren’t they?

DH: I wanted to look at how human beings live on this planet. How do we react to the natural world? What is our role? This movie is an environmental story. It’s very top of mind, because as human beings, we are fundamentally changing the environment. And we have to be very thoughtful about how we move forward. So that was on my mind, and I know that’s very weighty, but that’s where we started. Then it’s up to us as filmmakers to weave that story into something that’s entertaining and relatable for our audience.

QN: And these characters are making their choices for the future. What do we do today to make the world a better place tomorrow? Eventually, Searcher and his father must decide not What is best for me? but What is best for the future. What is best for Ethan? Those are the heroes that we want, and that’s what we put on the screen.

Strange World opens in theatres everywhere today, November 23

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