Event Recap: Animation is Film Festival Gives Attendees a Work-In-Progress Look at Disney’s “Strange World”

Three generations of Clades get wrapped up in one unforgettable adventure on November 23rd in Strange World, the 61st animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Animated films are often worked on up until the last possible moment, and on October 22nd, Animation Is Film Festival attendees were treated to a Work-In-Progress look at the film. Hosted by producer Roy Conli (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Treasure Planet, Tangled, Big Hero 6), it was great to see some new sequences, which were different from what was shown at Annecy.

Before we get into the footage, Roy sang the praises of composer Henry Jackman (Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6), who recorded the film’s score three weeks ago. The film is written and directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon), but voice actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, and Gabrielle Union added a lot through improvisations in the recording studio. And Disney Legend Burny Mattinson is credited with the idea for adding the dog, named Legend in his honor. Once a canine was added, artists began submitting sketches of their own dogs. It was Lissa Treiman who made him a tripod and the design was finalized by Jin Kim. We got to see test animation cycles for Legend and the true star of the show, Splat.

The first sequence we saw featured an average morning on Clade Farm in Avalonia, depicting Ethan acting grossed out by the sight of his parents (Searcher and Meridian) kissing while he eats avocado toast and discussing his chores for the day. After the clip, Roy filled in the story gaps, sharing that the Pando Crops fail (a revolutionary plant that Searcher discovered on the expedition where he lost his father Jaeger) and Searcher joins a mission underground to find out why it’s happening.

The next clip showcased Searcher’s descent into the center of the planet on the airship Venture. Flying down a deep cave, the ship is suddenly attacked by pink winged creatures just as Meridian races after them on a speeder, yelling to Searcher that their son Ethan has stowed away on board with their dog Legend. With Venture under attack, Meridian boards and, when the ship loses its pilot, she takes the wheel. The ship crashes through a barrier and into a subterranean world full of spongy plants and all manner of unusual creatures. As the ship bounces and tumbles, Searcher and Legend fly out, getting separated from the group.

The next clip featured Searcher and Legend exploring the odd terrain and meeting some of the unusual creatures. Splat steals Searchers handkerchief and, while trying to get it back, they are faced with a giant monster! A shaggy being saves them with a flame thrower, revealing himself to be Jaeger, Searcher’s long-lost father! This clip was followed by Ethan taking a skiff and venturing out to find Searcher and Legend. His rescue mission is hindered when he falls into an unseen crater. While exploring a cavern to find a way out, he encounters Splat carrying his father’s handkerchief and befriends the adorable blue blob with appendages.

Splat Pin Given to Animation Is Film Attendees

Splat Pin Given to Animation Is Film Attendees

The final clip showcased Ethan and Splat’s reunion with Searcher and Legend, plus Ethan meeting his grandfather for the first time. But their happy reunion is short lived as they are soon chased by a herd of tentacle creatures. Trapped on a cliff, their one opportunity of escape is on what looks like a flying school of fish. But as they run for their lives aboard the constantly-moving highway in the sky, the tentacle creatures follow them and gain new ground. They appear to be rescued by Meridian and the mission’s leader Callisto Mal, but when their rescue skiff dies, all hope seems lost!

Fun fact: That last sequence shown was so technologically complicated that it was the first one put into production and the last to be completed. With some of the most exciting sequences of peril ever presented in animation, Strange World promises not only an exciting adventure for moviegoers, but also a bright future for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Utilizing all of the technological advancements from the most recent films, Roy Conli shared that a major systems change at the studio will help make the next film, Wish, look more incredible than any before it.

At its core, Strange World is a film about legacy told through three generations on one epic adventure. Sharing a personal anecdote, Roy’s grandfather was a Sicilian immigrant and his father was raised in Little Italy. His father didn’t have an easy childhood, which is why Roy’s dad got so emotional the first time he saw Roy’s grandfather playing with him as a child. The way a parent acts with their child is often different from the way they interact a grandchild and he really connected with that element of the story through Jaeger’s relationship with his son, Searcher, and grandson Ethan.

Storytelling is always top of mind at Disney Animation and, while Strange World is visually stunning and technologically groundbreaking, it also promises an exciting and heartwarming story. While it may not look like anything you’ve ever seen before, it implements the tried-and-true storytelling techniques that have kept Disney at the top of the industry for 99 years and counting. In the story department, Cintiqs make it easy to reuse a background and use more frames to plan out a storyboard sequence, but in Burny Mattinson’s day, sequences were typically capped at 150 story frames. On Strange World, the story artists were challenged with keeping their sequences at or under this magic number, which keeps each sequence feeling exciting, keeping you on the edge of your seats. Strange World may not look like your typical Disney animated classic, but the core principles behind it honor the fast as the studio keeps moving forward, to borrow a Walt Disney quote.

I can’t wait to see the rest of Strange World, opening exclusively in theaters on November 23rd. Click here to find showtimes near you.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).