‘Strange World’ Is A Heartfelt Sci-Fi Adventure That Teaches A Couple Valuable Lessons – Review
It’s safe to say that most new releases from Walt Disney Animation in recent years have been pretty formulaic. There’s always a cute animal sidekick, a defiant teen, some larger-than-life adventure, and promotional material plastered around every corner or completely unavoidable on all social media platforms. So, have you heard of Strange World, Disney’s newest animated adventure heading to theatres this Thanksgiving?
However, as I walked along the red carpet for the world premiere of their latest film, Strange World, my videographer admitted he’d heard nothing about this movie. Nothing. Most of my friends admitted the same. After seeing the movie, I thought I’d have more answers as to why this film seemed nonexistent, instead, I was frustrated. Frustrated because this movie deserves as much fanfare and celebration as any other movie in this era of animation. Disney could definitely learn a thing or two from what this movie has to say.
Strange World follows Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal), a humble farmer who must return to the adventurous life he’d left behind to save his community’s most crucial resource. At his side is his loving wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), his misfit son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), a couple of non-verbal sidekicks, and his long-lost father, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid). Together they’ll try to navigate unknown environments, eclectic creatures, and ideological differences that threaten the sanctity of the mission and their family altogether.
Off the top, the visuals are stellar. The animation team did an incredible job bringing this world to life using the art team’s truly imaginative design elements. Often “sci-fi worlds” feature creatures based on ones in the real world– how many blue horses do we have to see? When speaking to the directors, Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, about the design of the lifeforms, they had high praise for the ingenuity of their artists. The embrace of squash and stretch animation is most prominently seen in this film. This technique is I-C-O-N-I-C in the animation community and has rarely been revisited as more and more animated films strive for realism over cartoon antics. I can assure you Strange World whole heartily embraces this technique.
On visual creativity alone, this could stand on its own as a big-screen treat, but this movie has much more to offer in its characters. The vocal performances across the board are incredible, and the embrace of many different skin tones and personality traits is always so beautiful to see on-screen. Love and care shine through the voice cast about the representation and heart of this movie, which allows me to address the biggest headline of this movie. Jaboukie Young-White voices Ethan, an openly gay teenager fighting the ideologies of the past two generations of his family. We’ve heard Disney tout their “first” LGBTQIA+ character several times, but honestly, I think this is the representation we should be seeing going forward. Ethan’s sexuality is a simple fact, not a flashy statement– it’s not the story’s primary focus, but it lends itself to its overall theme. It’s more than just a scene that can be cut out and I, personally, am very happy to see a cutesy, nervous boy flirt with another boy the way I did when I was much less confident in expressing my feelings.
Furthermore, Ethan represents something more significant than his sexuality; he represents the new generations coming into a world where older generations attempt to steamroll over progression in their fight to keep things the same. Throughout the runtime, Ethan is challenged by his father and grandfather, facing different ideas about the life he should lead and the environment around him. This isn’t an entirely original take by any means, but it feels especially relevant now as Gen Z and Gen Alpha are ready to enact change in the world that just keeps getting drowned out by generations wondering if it’s too late for change. This is where I think Disney may be able to learn from this movie.
Every new Disney movie follows a pattern, but this one is an anomaly. The pattern typically is as follows: Disney announces a new animated project. They proclaim it has the first of “this” or that.” The lead gets a new cute sidekick, and they both get merchandised to hell. After a considerable publicity push, the film makes significant bank, and then the IP lives on forever through Disney’s money-making schemes. Strange World is the “strange” middle child of the current Disney era, the one that is briefly acknowledged, offered the bare minimum, and is rarely heard from, i.e. Treasure Planet or Meet The Robinsons. I’ve seen more publicity about bigoted alarmists “warning” families that this film has an openly gay character than I have from official marketing. It’s so sad to see such a creative movie with a passionate team behind it get buried in the public eye. Whatever the reason is for this movie not getting its push– a company’s attempt to shy away from ideals or the movie’s structure being hard to sell– there’s no reason this story, this representation, and this creative team deserve to go unseen. Things are changing in the world; we owe it to everyone to reflect the world as it is today.
Immediately after leaving the premiere, I told my videographer, “Strange World will be this generation’s Atlantic: The Lost Empire.” Maybe that’s enough to excite you – a thrilling adventure into a world beyond imagination! But it saddens me to think that someone somewhere won’t experience this movie on the big screen just because they never knew to expect it. Someone fascinated who would be interested in a film that has a grand adventure to otherworlds, environmentalism, and even a shy, gay teenager flirting with the boy of his dreams.
I urge everyone to see this movie this holiday weekend in theatres. You’ll be rewarded by a heartwarming, fun adventure from your “Strange World” into another.