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Strange World: Why Is Disney’s Latest Animated Film A Flop?

Strange World is Disney's 61st animated feature. It was released in cinemas on November 23, 2022, and is currently a colossal failure. In this article, we will have a look at some of the reasons why this film is not performing as expected in both cinemas and Disney Plus.

First, let us consider the plot. The film is directed by Don Hall and follows the Clades, a family of explorers. The plot focuses on the relationship between two generations of fathers and sons: Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid) and his son Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Searcher and his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). To save their world, Searcher, and Ethan will have to embark on an expedition to find an underground strange world.

Variety reports that the movie only brought in $11.9 million in the US after the opening weekend. Moreover, according to a rough calculation, the film would need to bring in $450 million to break even and pay the $180 million in production, marketing, and distribution costs. However, this appears impossible to achieve, and Walt Disney Animation Studios anticipates a loss of around $100 million.

These are some reasons that we have identified:

1 Advertising

Disney’s classics have always been characterized by intense and even ‘hammering’ advertisement campaigns, including strategic merchandise before the film's release. We might think, for example, of Encanto, whose firing in cinemas was tremendously promoted by Disney Studios on their social media.

Nevertheless, it appears that Strange World has not received the same treatment, which is one of the main reasons why it flopped at the box office upon its release in cinemas. The film's marketing has only consisted of a few teaser trailers in recent months that have been circulated very little in theatres and on television.

The poor marketing of the film leads us to conclude that not many people went to cinemas to watch Strange World simply because they had not heard anything about it and were not aware of a Disney movie being released in theatres.

2 Bad Timing 

Nonetheless, there are other reasons that can explain the film’s failure. If the film’s promotion was managed poorly, the same could be said for the bad timing chosen for its release in cinemas. 

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior ComScore analyst: ‘Normally this time of year (Thanksgiving), a Disney family film is the big draw. However, although the film’s release during the Thanksgiving holidays was a strategic move, which had already proved successful with Encanto, Disney released another movie in cinemas that ultimately crushed Strange World; it is to say, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Moreover, at its release, Strange World had to compete with other acclaimed and much-anticipated films like The Fablemens and Bones and All, which inevitably surpassed it.

3 Distribution

Another motive for Strange World’s failure regards issues with its distribution. In fact, due to geopolitical tension, the film was not released in China or Russia, although these are two significant foreign marketplaces. Additionally, due to the film's inclusion of a gay character, Disney decided not to submit Strange World to several, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the whole Middle East. Indeed, Disney chose not to alter the story to conform to the rules of those countries, where censors frequently target movies with LGBTQ allusions.

4 Cinemas Vs. Disney Plus

Rebecca Rubin, a reporter for Variety, thinks that Strange World’s failure has been dramatic but foreseeable. She writes: ‘Some analysts believe the studio may have inadvertently conditioned families to watch new movies on its popular streaming service.’

On the one hand, it is no wonder that the pandemic has negatively impacted cinemas and the release of films. Disney, like other distribution companies, decided to rely on streaming services for the release of their latest productions. However, with the reopening of cinemas, this strategy damages theatres and discourages the audience from watching films on the big screen.

On the other hand, under the leadership of Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, who resigned in November, Disney decided to allocate some notable titles exclusively to domestic releases to support the launch of the Disney Plus streaming platform. These titles included 2021’s Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Soul, and Red in 2022.

However, this strategy has been criticized by many critics, who believe that these titles would have benefited the recovery of cinemas.

Moreover, Disney is distributing Disney Plus films released in theatres, like Black Widow (2021), shortly after their cinematic release. This discourages viewers from going to the cinema, as they know that they can only have a short wait before the streaming debut.

Similarly, Strange World debuted on Disney Plus a month after its release in cinemas, thus discouraging the audience from purchasing the cinema admission ticket.

5 Genre

Like other animated flops by Disney, like Atlantis (2001) and Treasure Planet (2002), Strange World is a sci-fi film about adventure and exploration, and its genre and style have been yet again a risky bet for Disney Studios. It is inspired by pulp magazines and retro science fiction, featuring a steampunk style that does not fully reach Disney’s primary target audience: children.

Furthermore, Melanie McFarland suggests on Salon that, unfortunately, Strange World did not live up to standard and did not captivate children for the absence of catchy songs, which, as she states: ‘can turn a mediocre movie into a repeat player in homes with young children.

Despite these factors that contributed to the film's failure at the box office, Strange World is a good film that deserves more attention. For example, its animation is stunning, and the world-building of the world discovered by the Clades is a feast for the eyes, featuring complex and exciting creatures and plants that live up to the standard of Avatar: The Way of Water.

Although the characters could have been better developed and the relationship between father and son would have benefited from more attention, the film is enjoyable. It touches on themes that only recently Disney is starting to include in their animated films. Strange World is the first Disney classic to feature a protagonist who is openly gay. This aspect of the character is presented with a sensibility and truthfulness that should not be taken for granted.

Similarly, the final plot twist is unpredictable and well-constructed. It gives away an environmental message that encourages the viewer’s reflection on the dynamics of our world and our part in its destruction.


In conclusion, there are many causes why Don Hall’s Strange World flopped in cinemas and is not going as predicted on Disney Plus, and these are just some of them. Perhaps, it will never live up to successes like Encanto, but it remains an enjoyable film worth watching. 

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