Origins and Evolution: The Making of Disney’s Strange World

Disney Animation occasionally veers of the path.

Don Hahn, a veteran Disney producer said that he called it “The Disney Way”. “turning left at the castle.” His analogy was built on theme park geography: instead of heading through the castle to Fantasyland, you would veer left, into Adventureland – an area full of hidden danger, wild creatures and very few songs. This was Hahn’s philosophy while he was working. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” 2001’s underseen animated gem.)

Walt Disney Animation Studios returns to Walt Disney Studios with the 61st animated feature “Strange World,” a story set in a mythological realm that follows three generations – manly adventurer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), his more intellectual son Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Searcher’s teen son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – as they explore a world beneath our own full of bizarre, deadly creatures and equally odd geography. They’re there in an attempt to save our world but uncover a threat that could destroy both.

We spoke to Roy Conli, Don Hall’s director and Qui Nguyen, Qui Nguyen’s co-director/writer (all Disney Animation veterans and are jointly responsible for the creation of Disney Animation). “Tangled,” “Big Hero 6” “Raya and the Last Dragon”() About what it took for the project to be successful “Strange World” To live.

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Strange Beginnings

Hall was co-directing the 2017 film. “Moana,” We began to brainstorm new ideas. It’s strange projects. “When Don came off of ‘Moana,’ he was thinking about, Okay, what’s going to be the next idea?” Conli.

“A lot of times, our process, we don’t pitch just one film. We pitch a few. And this was one of a few,” Hall said. “And it started with a question, which not every pitch does, but this one seemed to have that. What inspired it was just my kids and thinking about what kind of world they’re going to inherit, what kind of world did I inherit from my dad, and wanting to tell that generational story. But the first pitch was really about what if you discovered that you’re living on a living thing, and what you’re doing to live is harming that living thing? What would you do? It started with that big question.” Hall and Chris Williams were at the start of the project, which Hall developed with Chris Williams (his frequent creative partner). Hall eventually left Disney to direct the film. “The Sea Beast” Netflix. Some of Williams’ early art can be seen in the gorgeous art-of book.)

Conli was invited by him to be a colleague sometime in 2018. “Big Hero 6,” In his office which was at that time covered with artwork, he described several feature ideas. The environmental aspect of one project was the story of three generations and it linked back to the art wall.“a whole mood board of awesome adventures, movies, and pulp novels, and all that geeky, fun stuff that I love,” According to Hall

Hall wanted to be excited by a producer.

“The three generational aspect hit me immediately because I am a sucker for father/son stories,” Conli. “I think being a son of an incredibly strong, loving father, but tough… I remember in sixth grade I read ‘Death of a Salesman’ and was blown away going like, Oh, I’m lucky I don’t have him. But then the environmental story hit me as well. I thought was brilliant.”

Conli described Hall as “one of the best storytellers at Disney Animation.” “He creates these worlds that are so reflective of ours. But you can only visit through animation,” Conli. “And that’s where I think when you have a world that can only be visited in animation, animate it.”

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Hall gave Nguyen a more concise pitch, explaining the project as follows “Indiana Jones” meets “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

“Immediately, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know where the comedy comes from.’ Because it’s one thing to just make an adventure film, but you’re always asking when you’re writing something, ‘Where’s the comedy and where’s the emotion going to spawn from?’” Nguyen said. “And to see that and know that that was going to be a major element of this allowed me to be able to go, ‘Oh, I know exactly what I’m signing on to ride.’”

Even the most smooth rides can still get bumpy.

An Intermission

Strange World

Soon after Disney’s announcement, “Raya and the Last Dragon” At the 2019 D23 Expo there was a significant retooling. The entire creative team on the film were swapped, and some cast members were even replaced. Hall and Nguyen, who were both onboard as writer and director respectively, played a key role in this dramatic retooling.

“That small movie that happened,” Nguyen spoke facetiously.

“We had to put [‘Strange World’] down, but I think we felt confident in the story, though we hadn’t done much, maybe one screening, but I think we all felt like we knew the story well enough that we can let this simmer for a bit, we’ll go onto ‘Raya,’” Hall exclaimed. “And then when we came back, we were in fighting shape.”

“Raya and the Last Dragon” It was released finally in 2021 “Strange World” Release was set for a little more than a year later.

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Designing Strange

“Strange World” Visually, Walt Disney Animation is truly unique.

“A lot of it obviously came from the artists but I think a lot of dares from Don, honestly,” Nguyen said. “Of just going, ‘Hey, let’s make creatures with no faces. Let’s make sure that when you go underground, you don’t get to have the colors green, blue, or brown in it. Have fun making color combinations that are attractive there, and also it has to be amazingly gorgeous’”

What’s incredible about “Strange World,” The reason for the split-up of production is that artists such as Mike Gabriel and Williams worked on it. “Pocahontas” She retired recently, as did other stars like Jin Kim and Cory Loftis who left Disney. Come back, all within the project’s lifespan. (Loftis designed the movie’s airship the Venture, partially inspired by the flying vehicles found in various Hayao Miyazaki movies. Hall makes this explicit. “Castle in the Sky” As one of his favourites.

“Those challenges are the challenges I think all our artists want – they want to push themselves. Anytime we tried to pull back, they were like, ‘No, no, keep pushing us.’ And so they did, and that’s what created this incredible landscape and world that we get to play in,” Nguyen said.

You don’t have to give away too much “Strange World’s” There are secrets. Reasons The reason why creatures look like they do. Artists did extensive research to find real world connections. Sometimes they even based their creations on an old sausage, which is true 100%.

Alternate versions

Strange World
Strange World (Disney).

Although it may seem like the core “Strange World” The movie went through several versions, but it remained intact. The movie’s opening song was second-guessed by the crew. It stayed. Next came the dilemma of how serious the plot should be. In the final film, a single crew member is the pilot.

“We used to murder the entire crew,” Nguyen said.

Hall went on to describe how Callisto Ma (Lucy Liu), Callisto Mal’s headstrong leader, would have been affected by his death. “She was a little broken, but she was the only one left. And there was a scene where they go back to the broken remains of the Venture, and it’s all decayed, and it was like ‘Alien,’ and things were skittering around in the shadows and it was Callisto, who was haunted by the crew.”

These detours ended up being rerouted and the movie is now remarkable in its overall aesthetic and thematic goals. Conli again highlights the strengths Hall is as storyteller, leader, and leader.

“When you look at the design of this film, when you look at the character design, when you look at the world, it’s because he let them go and he didn’t try and force them into anything and he let it evolve as opposed to tried to pack it,” Conli said of Hall’s approach. “I’ve worked with directors who have a very solid idea and they try and push everyone into that idea. I think what Don does so beautifully, and I think the great directors that I’ve worked with do this, they allow people to bring ideas and he shapes those ideas. It’s more sculpting than he is painting in a certain sense.” He made a beautiful sculpture.

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One of the movie’s biggest surprises is how open-hearted it is and how progressive too. There’s the environmental aspect, of course, which makes direct parallels to our world in wonderfully forceful ways. But there’s also a key aspect of inclusion. Years after “Frozen’s” Elsa was made an LGBTQ+ icon in the movie without explicit references. Even in the sequel which saw so many viewers draw parallels, Disney Animation introduced a real-for-real queer character called Ethan.

The movie is set in the distant past and it shows that he has a relationship with another man. (One of the greatest scenes in the movie is Jaeger bonding with Ethan over Ethan’s “sweetheart.”)

“I mean, we just wanted to put on screen an LGBTQ+ character that is loved and accepted, and a hero of the story,” Hall said. “And it just started and ended there. That was just what we wanted to do. We love Ethan and I think audiences are going to really love Ethan too.”

Conli again chalks this up to Hall’s innate skill as a filmmaker. “I think that Don has an amazing sense of the emotional core of what a piece is,” Conli. “And he’s always working from a thematic.”

“Strange World” These potentially tricky themes and ideas were explored just as fearlessly by us as we did the Clade family’s exploration of the wider world. And we’re all the better for it.

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