Strange World Synopsis: Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a farmer who discovers a resource that continues to power his community. He aspires to set a strong legacy for his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) in the aftermath of a strained relationship with his legendary adventurer father, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid). When a new threat disturbs Searcher’s prosperous community, he embarks on a quest to a strange world that boats a slew of surprises.
If solving a world-ending crisis was not scary enough, farmer and acclaimed descendant of adventurer Jaeger Clade, Searcher, must come face-to-face with his dysfunctional family dynamics in Disney’s latest animated adventure, Strange World.
Disney is synonymous with its history of bright, family-centric offerings that push boundaries in craft and emotional storytelling. However, while the House of Mouse continues to develop some inspired animated efforts, it’s clear that competitors, such as Dreamworks and Sony Pictures Animation, are garnering a larger slice of the crowded family film marketplace. A slew of successful recent efforts, like Dreamworks’ The Bad Guys and Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even upstaged Disney products as those studios focused on evolving their practices rather than sticking to a well-established formula.
With Strange World, Disney embraces tradition again with a swashbuckling family adventure set amidst a vast sci-fi landscape. The results register a solid-base hit – an agreeable yet unremarkable offering that successfully swims amidst familiar territory.
Some aspects of Strange World provide an intoxicating dose of fresh air. Directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen work successfully alongside their skilled animation team to create an imaginative landscape bursting with expressive textures and captivating creature designs. From the vibrant array of colors to the inventive world-building devices, the intricate animation showcases an impressive evolution of 3D-animated technology. Hall and Nguyen utilize the innovative technology to their advantage, shaping Strange World into a non-stop, 102-minute odyssey that embraces old-school, B-movie entertainment at every turn.
Many have critiqued Strange World for its direct mirroring of pulp serial sensibilities. The film openly pays homage to well-respected adventure romps such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and John Carter – a decision that I found refreshing rather than redundant.
Strange World transported me back to my childhood days of watching imaginative Disney tales like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. I wouldn’t label any of these movies as classics, but their repurposing of time-honored narrative devices in sleek new packages sparks the same type of awe and wonderment achieved by their well-respected forefathers. I appreciate that Stange World does not conform to modern family film sensibilities. Where many films force dated pop culture gags and hokey melodrama, World avoids unnecessary flourishes by exhibiting trust in its material.
Like most Disney features, Strange World also possesses an undercurrent of vital sentiments under its surface. The fractured dynamic between three generations of the Clade family offers an astute perspective on legacy and the rigid bond between father and son. Each of the three Clade men wants what’s best for one another, although peeling away at their shared vulnerabilities becomes a task more herculean than any of Jaeger’s heroic conquests. Strong voice performances from Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher, Jaboukie Young-White as Ethan, and a raspy Dennis Quaid as the patriarch Jaeger additionally aid the film’s compelling ambitions.
Some aspects of Strange World offer a vivid source of creative inspiration. Other elements elicit nothing more than an ambivalent shrug. I appreciate the ideas Nguyen brings to the table, including another necessary reminder about climate change and preserving our planet’s ecosystem. However, Nguyen’s idealism ultimately conforms too much to the standard Disney formula. The family plights at the center of Strange World don’t receive enough time to breathe onscreen, eventually leading to simplistic conclusions that waste the film’s underlying potential.
For a movie about traversing through unknown territories, Strange World is ironically deathly afraid of treading new waters. Every story beat and last-second plot revelation is recycled from the film’s far superior contemporaries. Even as someone who admires World’s throwback sensibilities, the film feels somewhat beige and forgettable due to the lack of innovation on display. Audiences clearly felt the same following the film’s abysmal box office performance in its opening weekend. Strange World’s financial failures are sending a necessary message to Disney that it takes more than stunning animation and an excellent concept to win over audiences.
For what it is, I still enjoyed Strange World for its breathtaking craft and endearing spirit. Hopefully, the film’s so-so reception inspires the House of Mouse to take more risks with their material.
Strange World is now playing in theaters.
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