Farmer Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family discover a gorgeous world buried under their community of Avalonia in the new feature film Strange World from Disney Animation Studios. However, the plot involves more than merely exploring foreign lands and claiming new territories.
Although director Don Hall credits Studio Ghibli writer-director Hayao Miyazaki as one of the primary sources for the film’s topic, the aesthetic inspiration for the film comes from pulp science fiction comics and movies, as well as French and Belgian adventure comics.
Although Hall was also reflecting on the beginning of Miyazaki’s career, films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are notably well-recognized for highlighting people’s frequently destructive relationship with nature. Hall notes that “several of his earlier works had extremely significant environmental implications.”
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Searcher and his family embark on their trip to conserve the enigmatic pando plant, which provides energy for their world. Twenty-five years ago, Searcher and his father, Jaeger, went on an expedition and discovered the panda (Dennis Quaid). Pando allows the people of Avalonia to create technical advancements, such as personal flying airships and coffeemakers. But lately, the panda’s strength began to fade.
The critical story twist in the film, however, provides an additional allegorical depth to Strange World by revealing more than simply the true nature of this plant. The film’s big reveal is explained below, along with how it fits into the overall plot by the directors.
To begin with, the panda isn’t a power plant; instead, it’s a parasitic virus gradually destroying the Clades’ home, which is shown to be a massive being floating in the middle of an unending ocean. Surprise! The “strange world” the Clades spent the entire movie investigating is the creature’s interior, which explains the warm colors and organic lumps. Avalonia is constructed on the creature’s back.
This major plot twist was one of the first ideas Hall and co-director Qui Nguyen, who also penned the screenplay, had for the film.
According to Hall, “Day One was in the original pitch.” “It was merely a question: What would you do if you realized you were riding on the back of a live entity and your actions were injuring it? The story was developed from there.
Following that realization, the Clades must choose between saving the Pando, which would kill the creature they depend on, and keeping their world while giving up the comforts of their life and ultimately affecting everyone in Avalonia without their input. While there is considerable argument over what to do, the Clades and the rest of their expedition team ultimately conclude that they must save the creature.
“[It] came down to the basic question that we wrestle with in the real world,” Nguyen says. “Two things that are always a battle are the conveniences of today versus the need for tomorrow. If we lost certain energy sources, it would make things harder, but ultimately might be better for the world and make the future last.”
Nguyen says, “We camouflaged it as the potential antagonist of the movie, but then ultimately went, Hey, this thing that brought you all these amazing things like airships — are you willing to give that up for the benefit of keeping your world alive, and ultimately giving a place for your kids to be able to have a future on?“
“It also helped that we gave Searcher the onus of discovering [pando],” adds Hall. “And then bringing it back to Avalonia and farming it, so he has a profound personal connection to pando. It made it personal for Searcher that he was giving up something that he brought to the world, even though now, it’s turned into something that’s not benefiting it.”
Of course, the movie’s depiction of the environmental issue is far more seamless than it would likely be in actual life. The film’s epilogue, which occurs a year after the main events, depicts how the people of Avalonia have primarily adapted to their new way of life without the contemporary amenities they were accustomed to. It’s ambitious and probably has a happier conclusion than the Miyazaki version of the film would have. But then again, what is a Disney film, if not a joyful ending, that inspires viewers to aim higher and treat others with kindness?