The world of Disney’s Strange World is, well, strange. There’s the wacky underground realm, full of bloblike creatures swathed in warm colors, but even the “normal” land of Avalonia is different from our own. Directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen set out to make a world void of technology when building out Avalonia, and the result is a solarpunk, retro-futuristic setting where people have personal airships but not cell phones or televisions. One thing that Avalonia does share with our world? Teenagers are still avid gamers, and that includes Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White), the son of farmer-turned-reluctant-explorer Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal).
“We wanted Ethan to be a gamer because our kids are gamers,” laughs Hall. “Every kid, every teenager right now is a gamer.”
But without computers and consoles, the filmmakers of Strange World had to rely on a different source of inspiration for Ethan’s gamer interest: tabletop gaming. Enter Primal Outpost, the collectible card game that Ethan and his friends geek out over. In Primal Outpost, players must work together to establish a settlement in the wilderness, learning to cooperate with the environment. We don’t really learn the specific mechanics of Primal Outpost within the movie, but Hall tells us that the game is fully fleshed out.
“There are actual rules. And there are more cards than what we show,” he explains.
If the general plot of Primal Outpost — i.e., living with the wilderness instead of conquering it — sounds familiar, that was 100% intentional. Ethan plays the game with his dad and his grandfather, the bombastic explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid). The two older men are more interested in attacking the creatures and defending their stronghold from the environment instead of understanding it. Cue Ethan groaning and trying futilely to get them to grasp the point.
“The rules of the game [were] actually secretly the theme of the whole film,” says Nguyen. “It was a nice trick to have Ethan be able to say, Hey, this is what this whole thing is about, living harmoniously with the environment around you.”
Strange World is now out on Disney Plus.