Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Strange World is finally here. Now streaming on Disney+, the action-packed comedy introduces audiences to an entirely new world, filled with never-before-seen creatures and new adventures at every turn. Along the way, we learn of generational conflicts, the power of family and legacy, and unconditional love. Strange World centers around farmer Searcher Clade (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal), who, with his wife Meridian (voiced by Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), journeys to a strange new world in order to try save their home, Avalonia. Dennis Quaid voices Searcher’s dad, Jaeger, a famous explorer.
Disney News recently sat down with the four members of the Clade family — Gyllenhaal, Union, Quaid, and Young-White —to talk about their experience working on this out-of-this-world (literally) adventure.
Jake, can you talk a little bit about who Searcher is and what attracted you to the character?
GYLLENHAAL: First and foremost, I always feel like the story is what attracts me to a film. And I could feel from [director] Don [Hall] and [co-director and writer] Qui [Nguyen] and from [producer] Roy [Conli] that early on, it came from a true place. As Don even talked about, the initial idea of the movie was really based on something that came from his own heart. And so that drew me in. It wasn’t a story that came from the ether — it came directly from him and his personal experiences. So that made me want to be involved because it felt very personal. I think the character was — and I’m sure that the rest of the cast feels this way too — it was developed over time, over the year, year-plus we were working with them. And what makes working with them so wonderful is they’re really open to you bringing yourself. And little do you know, all the animators are starting to watch your face, watch your movements, watch your facial expressions. And the character slowly does become you as you become it in this odd, extraordinary transformation. So I was bringing myself without even realizing I was bringing myself. (LAUGHS)
Dennis, you really disappeared into Jaeger. And you really brought his humanity. Talk about your character and the broad duality of him, because he’s so much fun.
QUAID: Well, he was a fixated person, you know? He sees himself as the greatest explorer the world has ever known. He wants his son, in that traditional sense, to carry on the banner and the legacy of all that. And both Jake and Jaeger, I think, are hypocritical without knowing it, but they wind up doing the exact thing that they fought against. And everybody in this film is after the same thing. They have the same goal, they just have different ways of going about it to save Avalonia. And I thought there were just layers upon layers. It felt like a real family, with real issues that you would wind up fighting about over the Thanksgiving dinner table. You know? (LAUGHS) Those things that come up, it was real to me. And they didn’t look away or try to cover it over. It’s very funny.
Jaboukie, this is a film about generations. There’s a lot that can be said between these similarities, but there’s something to be said for that which you don’t repair, you repeat.
YOUNG-WHITE: Yeah, I think what’s fun about Ethan is that he does play the peacemaker, but also he’s the last piece of the destiny being fulfilled. Of course, [Searcher] thought he was all clear — [he] was away from his father, and then he has Ethan. And he’s like, “This is round two.” [But] this is everything all over again. So I think [Ethan’s] a really good intro to the generational aspect of everything.
He’s also really funny.
YOUNG-WHITE: I think that this whole experience has been really emotional and fun, and just all over the place.
Gabrielle, it’s refreshing to see you be the fun, cool mom in this one. Talk about that and how you brought in this mom that is taking to the skies in a lot of ways.
UNION: Well, I’d been in the minor leagues, and I’d done voice acting before on a smaller scale with Disney at Disney Junior. But to be able to provide a voice for the famed Disney Animation [studio], that’s like a dream come true. That’s something we all kind of hope for. And then to be given freedom? Like, people say, “We got that one in the can. Now, just ad lib. Say what you want.” And they never use it. But [Disney Animation] actually meant it. And I was like, “For real?” They kept so much of what I ad-libbed. And you walk in, they’re all truly, legit wonderful people. Jake’s amazing, you know? Jaboukie’s amazing. Dennis is. And they just made it a wonderful, super, lovely, fun, efficient experience.
But also the mannerisms — there was a sly, little smile that Meridien gave where her cheek has the dimple that is absolutely uncanny. They put Gabrielle’s mannerism in there.
UNION: The dimples, that was wild because it wasn’t there initially and then, clearly, they’re watching [me], and then it’s there. All my little -isms and stuff that I do. It was like, they got it. (LAUGHS)
This question is for Jaboukie. Ethan Clade is such a modern, different protagonist than so many we've seen in prior Disney films. To you, why is a character such as Ethan an important addition to the Disney canon?
YOUNG-WHITE: I love Ethan's character because there is so much that he's figuring out at this time, and his identity and so many facets of his identity are all of him at once. It's not a story about him coming out. It's not a story about him trying to find acceptance for his sexuality. It's just Ethan coming into himself wholly, fully, and in an environment that is ready to support him. And I think in any medium, that's really interesting. And in animation, that's huge.
Gabrielle, you are such a strong and resilient person in real life. Did you channel a bit of your own personality into the fearless Meridian Clade? And what did you like about the way she was animated?
UNION: Well, starting with the animation, you know, having a little Black girl at home who is obsessed with hair, and her hair, and everyone's hair, seeing the hair texture of Meridian, and the curls, and us very much leaning into the natural hair movement and the celebration of our hair in its natural state, that was huge. Her having very Afrocentric features, her having a shape, hips. That was awesome. All of that was really important. And in terms of what I brought, this allowed me to show how I am in real life. I’m not like a regular mom. I'm a cool mom, you know, with a big life. Not a fighter pilot, but I fight folks in the street, so, you know. (LAUGHS)
QUAID: You're really a heck of a pilot, I have to say.
UNION: Thanks! So yeah, this was a lot closer to my natural personality, and how we get down at home as parents, and how we lovingly nudge our children to live their best lives on their own terms.
GYLLENHAAL: Do you guys cook and dance at the same time? Do you guys do that?
UNION: No. There's a chef in the kitchen. (laugh) He is an NBA superstar, so no.
GYLLENHAAL: I was interested. So when you say “get down,” you meant —
UNION: Oh, we get down.
GYLLENHAAL: You didn't mean cooking, you meant —
UNION: No. No, not at all, Jake. We eat and we dance.
GYLLENHAAL: Just for the folks out there, I want to clarify. (LAUGHS)
UNION: Just slow drags, but we dance around the chef. But no, we don't chop anything, no. (LAUGHS)
Dennis, in a number of ways, Jaeger shows how unbalanced the classic hero archetype is. Talk about how the character challenges that archetype.
QUAID: Well, that's the deal of these heroic people. You know, it's the hero's journey in a way, told in three different ways, all three of us as generational. But I think Jaeger harkens back to maybe even the '50s and '60s when the man was supposed to go out and work. And he'd be gone, and you didn't think twice about it, and he could be heroic. And at the same time, what you miss is everything that's really important. And I like the way they portray that, and really faced it, and owned it, and addressed what all goes with that.
Jake, your character prefers farming to exploring. Is there any real experience you’ve had in farming? Or would you rather be an explorer?
GYLLENHAAL: I have had experience in farming, yes.
GYLLENHAAL: Yes, successful at times, yes. (LAUGHS) I mean, as farming goes. And I have some close friends that are actual farmers. But I love adventures, too.
UNION: What kind of adventures, Jake? (LAUGHS) Be specific.
GYLLENHAAL: We can take that off into another side room, is that what they're called? (LAUGHS) So yeah, I have experience in both adventuring and farming. I really do love to cook. And what comes from the earth and what we eat is to me, one of the most important things in my life. I do cook for myself, so I – (LAUGHS) sometimes, and when I do, I like getting it from the ground. So I think I would probably go with farming. And the dancing — I dance in the movie, too. That's an adventure for the audience.
Jaboukie, how thrilled are you to portray Ethan?
YOUNG-WHITE: I'm pretty excited. I think it would've been dope if I could've seen this as a kid. Knowing that I could be a part of that for somebody else, that's beautiful. That's what it's about.
Gabrielle, how did you think Meridian reclaims the important role of motherhood in the modern world through this film? Because she is not on the sidelines.
UNION: I'm happy to be a part of the changing face of moms, period, in media, but certainly, starting with Disney. Showcasing a proud, Black woman that loves super affectionately and is very demonstrative with her affection. She loves out loud. And yet, she still had a very fulfilling past as a fighter pilot, you know. And so she's got layers, there's complexity, but there's so much love. She's not an evil stepmom. She's not a deceased memory that we're thinking back on. She's an active participant in the story, which is nice to not just be the mom you see randomly.
What Disney movie was most impactful to you?
QUAID: Dumbo. It just affected me so much as a kid. And then in college, my acting teacher did an entire class on Dumbo based on its story structure and what it was about. It's an incredible myth that points to something you really have no words for.
YOUNG-WHITE: A Goofy Movie. Like, truly, the outfits on A Goofy Movie — I've seen it so many times. I think it's deep in my subconscious. I can't even tell you how it's affected me. It's like a part of my DNA.
UNION: Beauty and the Beast. It really impacted my dating choices from like, the mid '80s through the early 2000s. Yeah.
GYLLENHAAL: I'm going to go with the O's too, but I'm going to say Dumbo and Finding Nemo. Those two, definitely.
Don’t miss Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Strange World, now streaming on Disney+.