Disney’s ‘Strange World’ is an Exploration of the Universal Father/Son Relationship

Walt Disney Animation Studio’s latest original adventure, Strange World, continues the long tradition of taking audiences to fantastical places to learn some of life’s real lessons. At its core, Strange World, which opens in theaters this Thanksgiving, is less about the exploration of the titular subterranean world and more about the exploration of the relationship between father and son.

Director Don Hall has a long history with Disney Animation, having helmed films such as Raya and The Last Dragon and Big Hero 6 and written Meet the Robinsons and the recent Baymax! shorts, so he’s no stranger to the nuances of weaving life lessons into the narrative tapestry of an animated film. For Strange World, Hall dug into his own life to find the heart of the story. According to the director, the genesis of his latest film came from “just thinking about my sons and the world they’re going to inherit. How is it different from what I inherited from my dad?

To answer that question, Hall and co-director Qui Nguyen created a story focused on three generations of the Clade family: Jaeger, his son, Searcher, and his grandson, Ethan. A legendary explorer, Jaeger disappeared on an expedition. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Searcher discovered a revolutionary power source derived from plants and lives with his family where teenage Ethan works on the family farm while questioning his future. According to Hall, Ethan’s arc in the story came from reflecting on his own experiences as a teen.

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.

Don Hall

Nguyen, a father of two, like Hall felt the exploration of the father/son dynamic was worth taking on for Strange World saying it was a story he “needed and wanted to tell.” Nguyen explained further saying, “We could relate to Jaeger and Searcher when it comes to our kids. 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, whose two decades of experience at Disney stretch from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to his more recent work on nature documentaries such as Polar Bear and Bear Witness, echoed the sentiments of Hall and Nguyen, calling the father-son dynamic “phenomenal and universal.” Like the directors, Conli cited his own experiences as an example of how the dynamic ultimately shapes all sons.

Father-son relationships are so beautiful and so fraught simultaneously. 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.

Roy Conli

Strange World, a Walt Disney Animation Studio’s film, will be in theaters November 23rd, 2022.

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