“Strange World” stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, and Lucy Liu. Released on November 23, 2022, the film has a family of explorers traversing through an uncharted and surreal world.
The film was directed by Don Hall, who also directed “Winnie the Pooh”, “Big Hero 6”, and “Raya and the Last Dragon”. It is the 61st feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Besides making fairy tales and musicals, Disney is known for delivering animated adventure films that provide family-friendly thrills instead of characters breaking into song. Those include the likes of “Tarzan”, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”, “Treasure Planet”, and even last year’s “Raya and the Last Dragon”. The studio’s latest animated feature is no different, as it looks to take viewers to a world where surreal is the norm. Seeing that I enjoyed some of Disney’s previous action-packed animated films, there’s no doubt I was willing to join in on this adventure. With that said, let’s head into uncharted territory and see if this strange expedition is worth taking.
The movie follows Searcher Clade (Gyllenhaal), a farmer who’s also the son of the legendary adventurer Jaeger Clade (Quaid). Searcher has spent 25 years outside his father’s shadow by harvesting a newly found plant into fuel resources for the land of Avalonia. However, the quiet life is interrupted when Searcher, his wife Meridian (Union), and their son Ethan (Young-White) are assigned by Avalonia’s president, Callisto Mal (Liu), to tackle their latest mission. Their assignment leads them to a mysterious world underneath Avalonia, inhabited by various unusual life forms. With Jaeger joining the fun, Searcher must rely on his courage and his family to complete their dangerous task and save the planet from destruction.
“Strange World” is another film in which Disney took inspiration from specific source materials and cultures to create an original story. This time, it takes inspiration from pulp magazines from the 20th century and pays homage to retro sci-fi films from years past, such as “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “King Kong”. Even the teaser trailer was created to recapture the look of a retro movie. Although, from the looks of the trailers, the film also reminded me of James Cameron’s “Avatar”, which is now owned by Disney. This seemed somehow appropriate since Cameron’s sequel is coming out in a couple of weeks. But, of course, all that matters is how they combine them to make a worthy story about the importance of family and legacies. So how does it live up to the brand’s legacy? Well, if you expect it to be the next animated classic, you might be slightly disappointed with this discovery. However, that doesn’t make it less fun than the other family-friendly adventures of years past.
The story makes “Strange World” the latest movie in Disney’s library to feature generational trauma as its central theme. Amid the adventure into the unknown world lies a tale about Searcher struggling to keep his son Ethan from becoming like Jaeger, who left Searcher behind to pursue his own destiny. However, Searcher would soon discover that a legacy is more than just keeping up with the tradition. The movie offers a suitable message about choosing their own paths and respecting other people’s interests. Additionally, it showcases that the greatest discovery is what’s in front of us, mainly in the case of Jaeger.
While the themes shown are genuinely heartwarming, its storytelling doesn’t quite live up to its weirdly convincing premise. The story features many familiar traits we’ve seen in other movies, primarily the ones from the adventure genre, including the overprotective father trope and generational trauma. The film also had plenty of fun moments that kept it from being a dull exploration, especially the humor. Unfortunately, the plot falters from its fundamental world-building and average screenplay. For a peculiar world filled with creative environments, it should’ve been much stranger than the film’s on-the-nose title.
Another fun moment that drives this adventure is the characters. Disney is no stranger to making every character in animation likable and entertaining, even the ones that are formulaic. The characters in “Strange World” are no exception. In addition to the diversity and representation, the characters offer the energy, charm, and heart we’ve seen before, especially Searcher and Jaeger. They may not join the ranks of the studio’s memorable characters like Snow White, Tarzan, and even Elsa from “Frozen”, but the ones in “Strange World” deliver enough moments to satisfy me and its target audience. Additionally, the voice cast did a solid job providing their vocal talents to their respective characters. Jake Gyllenhaal was decent as Searcher, and Dennis Quaid offers a lot of energy and amusement in his role of Jaeger. Jaboukie Young-White was also entertaining regarding his performance as Ethan. But, of course, there’s also Splat, another side character from Disney destined to be popular among kids. There’s not much to say about Splat, one of the world’s creatures, except he’s adorable.
Finally, we have the animation. It’s unsurprising that Disney delivers quality in its CGI animation and world-building regarding their movies. Regardless of how you feel about the recent films, you can’t ignore that the studio has consistently met its expectations regarding its style. “Strange World” continues this trend by delivering the dazzle and wonder of its environments with its CGI animation. I also appreciate the different color palettes that resemble the two worlds, with orange and white for Avalonia and red and magenta for the strange world. They set the two apart distinctively and imaginatively, even though the world-building for the underground realm was bare-bones.
Overall, “Strange World” delivers a mildly fun expedition through its peculiar setting. However, it’s not enough to overshadow a middling narrative that fails to live up to its title. It’s far from a dull journey, as it provides plenty of elements seen in Disney’s other movies, such as the eye-popping animation, messages, and likable characters. Unfortunately, it also falls short of what the studio is known for regarding its quality. The plot struggles with some of its emotional beats, the script is formulaic, and the world-building is surprisingly more fundamental than weird. It makes for a fine distraction for the kids, but compared to Disney’s other animated masterpieces, there’s not much else worth exploring for anyone else.