Strange World Footage Reaction: A Pulpy Sci-Fi Adventure Throwback [Annecy]

Just when you think the Disney formula has hit a wall, along comes a film that reminds you that, yes, this is the studio that broke the mold and revolutionized animation so many times in the past. While it remains to be seen if the studio's latest, "Strange World," reaches the heights of their more classic films, there is a lot of reasons to be excited about this new adventure. 

For one, it's directed by Don Hall, the Oscar-winning director who helmed the last Disney film in 2D, "Winnie the Pooh," as well as their first fantasy adventure film in decades, "Raya and the Last Dragon. Second, it boasts a cool cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, and Lucy Liu. But arguably most exciting, it looks like a throwback to that short period in the late '90s and early '00s where American animation dared to go big with epic sci-fi adventures.

/Film got the opportunity to see the first footage of "Strange World" at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and fans of "Atlantis" or "Treasure Planet" should be pretty excited for Disney Animation's 61st film. 

A pulpy adventure

Inspired by pulpy sci-fi novels by the likes of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs, "Strange World" is set in the land of Avalonia, a valley surrounded by an inescapable mountain range. Of course, that doesn't stop the explorer Jaeger Clade (Quaid) from leading an expedition with his son Searcher (Gyllenhaal) to find a way out. The problem is that on the way, they discover a strange plant that Searcher believes will change their lives forever and wants to go back to deliver the plant to the town, but his father wants to keep going. Following an argument, Jaeger continues alone and is never seen again.

Searcher, on the other hand, goes back and with the help of the plant, turns the small farming community into a prosperous sci-fi metropolis with incredible technology, spaceships and the works. The story picks up 25 years later when the plants that power the city start dying, and a commander named Callisto Mal (Liu) decides to journey to the center of the world to find out what happened. Along for the ride is Searcher, as well as his son who sneaks on board, and his wife who follows after him.

During a Disney Animation Studio showcase at Annecy, three unfinished clips were shown. The first one sees Ethan (Young-White) meeting his friends and talking about a new trading card game while flirting with the boy he likes. Though Disney has an abysmal track record when it comes to genuinely good queer representation, this scene feels a bit more meaningful than most of their "first gay character in a Disney movie" headlines. Rather than a background moment that can be erased for international distribution, it is Ethan's whole deal that he is an awkward teen with a crush on the cool boy in town, and whose father ridicules him by acting all cool and bringing up the fact that Ethan just won't stop talking about this boy. There's still a long way to go, but it's a step in the right direction.

An exciting new world

As for the other two clips, they deliver the kind of pulpy action-adventure Disney hasn't done since "Treasure Planet" disappointed at the box office and failed to become the classic it is clearly meant to be. We see the expedition head to the center of the planet on a big aircraft, with a sense of awe and scale that brings to mind the first time we see the submarine from "Atlantis," before it gets attacked by pterodactyl-looking birds made out of jelly. It's a fast-paced action scene with great creatures we haven't seen before, and a genuine sense of danger amidst the family-friendly comedy of a Disney movie — just wait until you meet the family dog, who will steal the movie.

The second clip takes place after the Clade family gets separated in the titular Strange World, with Searcher and his dog getting attacked by a huge creature, before they are saved by a rough, badass old man who turns out to be Jaeger himself. Though the pulpy action looks great, the short amount of footage shown did give a big impression that the film will have a lot to say about father-son relationships, and given Don Hall also gave us the vastly underrated "Meet the Robinsons," get your tissues ready to dry some tears.

 Even in its unfinished state, "Strange Worlds" looks incredible, especially when it comes to its creature and production designs. The pulpy tone and sense of stakes and danger bring to mind the lost period of the late '90s and early '00s when movies like "Titan A.E." attempted to bring epic sci-fi to American animation. Perhaps this film, as well as "Lightyear," will give it another chance.

"Strange World" is scheduled to release on November 23, 2022.