Disney animation creators on new ‘Strange World’ film, inclusivity and representation

The upcoming animated film features the voices of prominent Black talent like Gabrielle Union and Jaboukie Young-White.

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Disney is back this holiday season with a brand-new film.

Starring Gabrielle Union, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, among others, “Strange World” takes families on an exciting adventure filled with far-off places, and TheGrio got a chance to connect with the creatives behind this original story from Disney and talk about Black representation in animation, and much more.

Premiering this November, “Strange World,” is an action-adventure film from Walt Disney Animation studios, with Gyllenhaal starring as Searcher Clade, the son of an explorer. The film, “journeys deep into an uncharted and treacherous land where fantastical creatures await the legendary Clades, a family of explorers whose differences threaten to topple their latest—and by far— most crucial mission,” the synopsis reads.

The film features the voices of (clockwise from top left) Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, the leader of Avalonia; Jake Gyllenhaal as farmer and father Searcher Clade; Dennis Quaid as diehard explorer and Searcher’s father, Jaegar Clade; Gabrielle Union as pilot and mother Meridian Clade; and Jaboukie Young-White as the youngest Clade, Meridian and Searcher’s son, Ethan. “Strange World” releases November 23, 2022. (© 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

With voice talent like Union and Young-White, the footage TheGrio has screened, as well as the trailers for “Strange World” continue to highlight Disney’s emphasis and commitment to diverse representation in its animation projects. Like the last Disney Animation feature, “Encanto,” which featured multiple dark-skinned Latinx characters in the Madrigal family, “Strange World” also features characters with a specific skin tone, hair texture, and more, creating an inclusive viewing experience.

Amy Smeed and Justin Skylar, co-heads of animation at Disney, talked about these decisions with theGrio. “Something we always do for each of our films is we always put a lot of research into all of our characters,” Smeed told us. “We would have consultants come in and [represent] skin tone, and texture of hair and all of that. We were in many conversations as we were building our characters to try to represent that authentically.”

“I’m really proud to be part of this studio, Smeed added. “We are starting to tell different types of stories and the people that are telling those stories are different, so I think it’s a really exciting time to be at this studio because of that.”

Skylar explained, “We are imagining these worlds but the stories we are telling are human stories. We want to make sure that the people we are representing in these movies represent the world. The world has all kinds of different people … we hope we do that justice.”

Co-director and writer Qui Nguyen also opened up about the responsibility for diversity and representation not just appearing on screen, but behind the scenes as well. “The diversity extends throughout the whole studio,” he said.

Recalling his first day at Disney Animation studios, Nguyen said he assumed there was a “diversity event” taking place before shortly realizing that “these were going to be my co-workers, and that immediately made me feel safe,” he added. “I think that allows us to not just tell stories with diversity, but also be able to come from an authentic place.”

“Strange World” premieres in theaters November 23, 2022. Check out the trailer below:

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