Strange World is the 61st feature film from Walt Disney Animation that comes at the heels of Disney’s 100-year anniversary as a whole. Th latest from director Don Hall and writer Qui Nguyen, who are both fresh off the success of Raya and the Last Dragon, Strange World follows a family of explorers who get mysteriously swept away into an extraordinary underground landscape where nothing is as it appears. Everything from the trees to the hills seemingly has a mind of its own, and there are plenty of sentient beings who are packing a heavy appetite for human flesh. But not Splat, Disney’s latest creature sidekick who helps navigate our adventurers in their journey across the Strange World.
A Strange Sidekick in a Strange World
Splat isn’t your average Disney companion. The small gelatinous monster sports 7 legs and has no definitive front, back, top, or bottom. Splat can roll around like a wheel, walk only on two legs if necessary, and can squeeze and crawl around in every way you can imagine. However, Splat doesn’t talk nor does it have a human actor providing its vocals – the sentient being communicates only through original sound design. This blue blob couldn’t be more vibrant and full of spunk, and its path to being Disney’s next loveable sidekick is practically set. But how did this little lively germ come to be? Well, its origins can be traced back to director Don Hall and another famous Disney sidekick he helped bring to life, Baymax from Big Hero 6.
An Simplistic Connection
During an early press day for Strange World, we were able to learn how Splat is much more connected to Baymax than you might think. Don Hall has proved to be somewhat of a good luck charm for Walt Disney Animation, now bringing the studio two Oscars as a director. He did so first with Big Hero 6, and Baymax is without a doubt the most recognizable character to come from that movie and one of the most popular Disney sidekicks of the last decade, with Baymax! on Disney+ and new meet and greets across Disney’s multitude of theme parks to show for it.
The way in which Splat in Strange World ties back to Baymax is more of a natural step forward for Don Hall. As the director explains, “I love the idea of for Baymax, stripping away everything. Baymax is a blank slate, you’ve got two little dots for eyes that blink and that’s kind of it.” For Strange World, Hall wanted to take this notion of simplicity to the extreme by creating this amoeba-like sidekick. “I wanted to go even further and basically say, ‘Okay, you get no face [this time] animators,’ and just see what they can do!” Splat ended up being the hardest character to animate in Strange World due to its plain yet very specific nature, but Hall always had faith; “I knew that we could take something that is really nebulous and weird, and let [the animators] run with it and provide all the personality we needed.”
Following Disney Tradition
Meanwhile, writer Qui Nguyen was quick to point out that Splat in Strange World actually follows a tradition in Walt Disney Animation, one that reaches much further back than Baymax and Big Hero 6. ” [Splat] also connects to the history of Disney animation in that some of our very memorable characters, like the carpet from Aladdin or the brooms from Fantasia, don’t have faces and are forced to communicate through pantomime,” the writer says. Coming up on Disney’s 100-year anniversary, Nguyen sees Strange World as much more special in this regard; “This a great opportunity to celebrate a character in our film that is challenged to communicate with pantomime and through other inventive means.”
Don Hall and Qui Nguyen are looking to reach untouched ground with Strange World, and hopefully bring the studio more major success for what would be the second year in a row. The only previous Disney film than can really be compared to this film is the cult classic Treasure Planet, as they both feature a swash-buckling journey into the unknown (with a blob like sidekick tagging along for the ride). Although Splat is nothing like the little Morph seen in that film. Just like the best of animated Disney films, Strange World takes elements of what came before to do something totally inventive, and Splat is just only one example of this. There may be a mix of Baymax or even Morph here and there, but Splat is all its own.