As has become a tradition in Disney’s animated films, Strange World features different references and Easter eggs to the company’s long cinematic legacy. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher, a young man forced into the explorer’s lifestyle by his father, beloved adventurer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid). Their paths diverge when Searcher, having found an energy source in the plant-like Pando, decides to stay in his town, prompting Jaeger to continue his expedition alone. Years later, Searcher, his wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and their son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), have to venture inside their world to fix a Pando crisis, a journey that reunites them with Jaeger.
Easter eggs are customary in projects from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Despite not existing in a cohesive universe, the company’s films famously feature references to each other, such as Frozen, including cameos by Rapunzel and Flynn Rider and Nick Wilde’s design from Zootopia appearing in Big Hero 6. Strange World continues that tradition. The film pays homage to different corners of Disney’s history, referencing other projects and even a respected real-life figure at the company. Strange World’s Disney nods can be subtle, making it arguably one of the studio’s most challenging offerings to find references in.
Strange World adds to Disney’s long history of hiding Mickeys in its projects. During the film’s opening sequence, when Searcher and Jaeger are on the expedition that ultimately breaks them apart, Searcher comes across Pando. As he looks closely at the plant (at the 3:35 mark), three Pando pods on the left make up Mickey Mouse’s head. Another Mickey in Strange World (which disappointed at the box office) appears at the 32:38 mark. Then, when Ethan is about to go into the cave, to his left, there is a blue, prickly-like plant made up of three circular shapes arranged in a way that makes them look like Mickey’s head.
Though difficult to make out, Big Hero 6’s Baymax seems to make a brief and hard-to-spot appearance in Strange World. Finally, at the 48:23 mark, Searcher goes to the Venture’s lab. In the top left corner, a red container-like structure atop a piece of furniture. Its color and thin black lines seemingly point to it being Baymax’s charging station from Big Hero 6 (which featured a Stan Lee cameo).
However, the machine’s design doesn’t match up entirely with the hero’s station. The device is also never fully shown. Yet, Baymax’s possible appearance in that shot may be backed up by Strange World co-director Qui Nguyen, who stated (via Murphy’s Multiverse) that the film featured a Big Hero 6 character:
Arguably one of the biggest Easter eggs in Strange World is a reference to Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Released in 2001, the film follows Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a young linguist who embarks on an expedition alongside a group of explorers to find Atlantis. Strange World’s ending shot shows the film turning into a comic book. The comic rests on a desk, and an old brown book can be seen in the top right corner.
The cover features a big “A” engraved on it, and its title is written in the Atlantean language created for The Lost Empire. When translated, it reads, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” Though somewhat unexpected, the Easter egg is understandable, as the 2D-animated film centers on a daring journey into a mysterious land, much like Strange World does.
The residents of Avalonia place their Pando pods inside batteries that power their machines. The batteries are similar in both look and concept to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.’s scream canisters, which store the children’s screams that powered Monstropolis. Strange World’s batteries even recharge in a somewhat similar fashion to their monster-universe counterparts. Aside from that, concept-wise, there is a deeper connection between the Pando batteries and Monsters, Inc. canisters, as both devices hold energy sources that greatly benefit people but are ultimately unsustainable.
Disney films typically feature cute animal companions for their main characters. In Strange World, that takes the form of Legend, Ethan’s excitable dog. The character is a reference to a respected Disney figure in real life. According to co-director Don Hall (via What’s On Disney Plus), longtime Disney storyboard artist and director Burny Mattinson (1967’s The Jungle Book movie, The Aristocats) consistently tried to talk him into including a dog in Strange World.
Despite his initial hesitation, the director ultimately obliged but decided to name the dog after his nickname for Mattinson, “Legend,” which stemmed from Mattinson becoming a Disney Legend in 2008 in the Animation category. Furthermore, Strange World’s Legend was based on a dog breed known as Bernedoodle. According to Hall (via Looper), the movie’s creatives used Mattinson’s name to coin the term “Burny-doodle” for the dog’s breed.