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Producer Roy Conli says Walt Disney would love Strange World

In our interview with Disney producer Roy Conli, we break down the making of Strange World and learn why Walt Disney would have been a fan of the new film

Strange World producer interview: Searcher on his farm wearing a hat

Strange World is the latest animated movie to come from Disney’s Studios and is packed with both an A-list cast as well as an A-list crew. One of the brilliant minds behind the family movie is the award-winning producer Roy Conli, who explained to The Digital Fix how Strange World marks the next step in the animated history of Disney movies.

Set in the fictional world of Avalonia, Strange World follows the Clade family – Searcher, his son Ethan and estranged father Jaeger – as they embark on a dangerous mission in a (drumroll please ) strange subterranean world. In an effort to save their civilization’s power source, the gang must face off against strange monsters, reconnect with one another, and discover the true nature of the very land they call home.

Before Strange World, Roy Conli produced a number of beloved Disney movies, such as Big Hero Six, Tangled, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In our Interview with the seasoned House of Mouse producer, we discuss what drew him to this latest feature, the possibility of more Strange World projects, and learn why Walt Disney would have loved to see the Clades on the big screen.

The Digital Fix: In Strange World, I loved how conservation was a really big message in the movie. You’ve previously worked with Disney Nature as well.

Roy Conli: Yeah.

What draws you to making features with such a big focus on the environment?

Well, I would love to save the world. [laughs] You know, I think that the wonderful thing about Strange World is we went in with a strong theme from day one. And that was: what, are we leaving the next generation?

And that, to me, is a question that needs to be asked on a daily basis. You know, the other thing that drew me to this was the three generational aspect of it. I love stories of fathers and sons. And in this situation, you have a father, son, and grandson, and an amazing mom. So then it becomes a family story. So it’s such an expansive tale. And it is a wonderful, strange world.

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Like you said, this movie is a family drama with three generations at its centre. But it’s also a big adventure. How did you find that balance of big thrills versus sentimentality?

Well, I think any great action-adventure movie always comes down to what is the emotional content of it? You know, Raiders of the Lost Ark would not be Raiders of the Lost Ark if you did not fall in love with Indiana Jones and all the people he comes in contact with.

It’s really important, whenever you’re doing a film, to find what is the core emotional element of that story. And within this, it’s this huge adventure, but it’s also about a family trying to figure out how to live together.

One of the things that really struck me about this movie too, was the characters in it, specifically the creatures in the subterranean world that the Clade family uncovers.

Oh, great!

Yeah. Because creatures like Splat in the film are cute, but they’re not traditional Disney cute. There’s no big eyes. No, fluffy tails.

Yeah. Exactly.

Strange World producer interview: Searcher holding Splat

So what was your reaction when you first saw these cute but maybe risky character designs?

I knew that we were creating a world that no one would ever imagine. We wanted to create something that no one had ever seen before. And one of the things that we knew is by having these great characters.

We used aquatic images, we used microscopic images, we’d use terrestrial images, we’d used fungus in terms of designing these different creatures. I knew that it was going to create a world where everyone was going to go, ‘oh, my gosh, I’ve never seen this before.’ And that’s, that’s what we aim for.

So the previous movies that you’ve worked on, such as Big Hero Six, we’ve seen you now produce a TV series for them too. So I have to ask the question – is there potentially a Strange World TV series on the horizon?

[laughs] You know, we just finished this film literally weeks ago, we haven’t talked about that. I could see adventures in Strange World, because there’s so much stuff and the characters are so wonderful. I could see doing that. But we’ll see. We’ll see. I think we all want to take a nice break, and then come back and start thinking about what we’re up to next.

So you don’t have anything on your mind then?

Not right now. I could see it happening, but we’ll see.

Strange World producer interview: The Clade family

Another thing that I really wanted to know because, again, we talked about how different this film feels to some other Disney films. What was your first reaction when you were actually presented with a script?

Well, I don’t know if it feels different than every Disney film. I think it fits. It’s, interesting, because this is what I love about working with Don Hall [Strange World’s director]. Don creates these amazingly immersive worlds that reflect ours but are not like ours. And yet, the only way you can actually visit them is through animation. So he’s created something that is specific to animation. But it’s still something that we relate to.

And I think that it’s something that Walt Disney himself would have loved, because he was always looking for different ways of telling stories and different types of stories. And I think that we’re just carrying on, you know, a century of storytelling.

That’s a lovely sentiment because isn’t Disney close to having its 100th anniversary?

Yeah! Well, you know, when you think about it, every ten years, storytelling evolves in cinema. If you sit down and I showed you a clip from a 1940s movie, you would know that it was from the 1940s.

If I showed you a 1970s movie, you’d know it’s from the 1970s. And the same thing goes with animation, you can pretty much tell when that film was made. And I think we’re just the natural evolution in terms of, you know, animation storytelling.

Strange World producer interview: Ethan and Jaeger holding a flamethrower

Yeah. Speaking of the process of making films. So Strange World wasn’t finished in September 2022 despite now releasing a month later in November.

Exactly. Yeah exactly.

So that must have been a pretty intense process. Getting it ready for cinemas on time.

It is always the last, those last couple of weeks of creating, finishing a film, bringing in the music and doing post-production. The mix, just getting it perfect is always thrilling, but exhausting.

I can imagine! So what were the big challenges for it? Do you remember any, significant events that stood out that you really had to push through?

You know, I think the fortunate thing is, like Strange World, making an animated film is always an adventure. [laughs] You know, there’s always a different path, different people.

I think my job is really about making sure that everybody is aware, in terms of the context of what’s going on and why decisions are being made. And, through this process, because I have such great partners, such great and amazing artists, I always think of it as a challenge, but not daunting.

Strange World producer interview: Flynn and Rapunzel in Tangled

Something that I just want to get out of the way since I know plenty of people who will kill me if I don’t ask. Will there ever be a Tangled 2?

[laughs] I used to answer, ‘well she cut her hair.’ And, you know, will there ever be a Tangled 2? I don’t know, frankly, you know? Byron Howard, who was one of the directors on it, we’ve talked about it a lot. We love that character. But he feels as a storyteller, he’s told the tale. So we’ll see, we’ll see. Stranger things have happened.

[laughs] Ok, that will only slightly break their heart. So, let’s go back to Strange World. What I really loved about Strange World was how diverse it was. It felt like a movie that was made for everyone, no matter their race or sexuality. This brings us to the unhappy topic of recent censorship that we have seen in the case of Lightyear.

Oh yeah.

What would you say to people who may consider this movie not suitable for their countries?

You know, I hope that everyone will look at this film and just fall in love with it. I mean, Ethan is such an amazing character. Yeah, he’s a beautiful character, compassionate, and, you know, caring. And I can’t see why anyone would not want to see it.

Strange World is out in cinemas now. For more adventures, here is our guide to the best kids movies of all time.