Strange World is a strange case for Disney Animation Studios. A week after its box office debut, it’s official: Strange World is one of the biggest flops the company has had on a Thanksgiving release in decades. The fact that this was the first animated feature to have an openly queer character in the main cast makes that fact even more disappointing. So what went wrong?
Strange World follows an intergenerational family of explorers on an uncharted planet. It is a different kind of Disney Animation film for a number of reasons. Stylistically, the film takes its cue from pulp adventure magazines and retro-futurism. But more importantly, the character Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young White) is a queer biracial teen with a crush on his best friend.
The film had a budget of $180 million, and in its opening week, it earned less than $30 million. Thanksgiving weekend, when families typically are on vacation, is usually a slam dunk for Disney—Frozen, Moana, and many others have all had Thanksgiving releases.
In Strange World’s case, it’s possible that recent straight-to-streaming releases have soured the box office. “Some analysts believe recently ousted Disney CEO Bob Chapek created consumer confusion for families by sending three Pixar films — Soul, Luca and Turning Red — straight to Disney+ as the company focused on building its streamer,” writes The Hollywood Reporter.
=At the same time, it’s possible that Disney has issues with adventure films in general. Polygon points out that Strange World has suffered a similar fate to adventure flops Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire—both of which also happened to have a retro sci-fi aesthetic. “Disney Animation’s unofficial trilogy of adventure flops are weirdly perfect representatives of these periods of uncertainty,” Polygon writes. “All three attempt to point a new way forward, stylistically and/or thematically, for their medium of all-ages animation. And all three wind up feeling muddled.”
I’ve been to the movie theater over 100 times this year and I didn’t see a single trailer for Strange World.
They do it on purpose. They intentionally bury it so they can say “See? Nobody wants to see movies like this.” Maybe they would if the studio promoted it. https://t.co/Res3q68PE3
— Adam ElIis 𓁹𓂏𓁹 (@adamtotscomix) November 29, 2022
I LOVED THIS MOVIE.
Ethan is such a good example of how I like to see Black & LGBTQ characters – LOVED. I NEVERR thought I’d see the day where I saw myself in a Disney character, representation is so so beautiful
Disney abandoned it so it would flop but GO SEE STRANGE WORLD! pic.twitter.com/Ap9ruTRV0O
— kyle💡flx pictures (@flx_pictures) November 24, 2022
Predictably, outlets like Fox News have blamed the film for being “too woke”—by acknowledging that queer people of color exist. Homophobes definitely played some role, as the film was review-bombed and banned in some countries. But some fans have also suggested the homophobia may have come from inside the house, in the form of a lackluster marketing campaign.
Disney certainly has a repeated history of censoring queer content, but Strange World seemed poised to turn things around. We may never know what exactly caused the film to bomb, but what’s more important is the lesson that Disney chooses to take from all this—whether that’s a freeze on pulp adventure or on burgeoning queer representation. But one thing’s for sure: between timing, style, marketing, and a right wing backlash, there were multiple contributing factors. Any attempt to blame it all on queer character, by Disney or anyone else, is an intentional oversimplification.