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Review: Strange World

November 23, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Strange World, the latest feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is a throwback to old school adventure movies from the 1930s to 1950s that works as a somewhat slight but mostly entertaining animated film.

The film centres around the Clades, who are a legendary family of explorers. The opening prologue – which is nicely done in the style of an old newsreel – introduces us to the patriarch Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), who wants his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) to follow in his footsteps, before abandoning him on an expedition and disappearing into the mountains.

Flash forward to years later, and Searcher has become a farmer, harvesting a plant that he discovered which is able to provide a seemingly endless power source for his town of Avalonia. Searcher now has a family of his own with wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), including teenaged son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), who is both gay and not sure if he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the farm. When the plants start to lose their power, the Clade family set off on a new adventure into the Earth to find the root.

What follows is a mostly predictable journey, that does feature a variety of fun and enjoyable moments along the way. There are some visually appealing designs elements in this imaginative world, including a variety of unique creatures, with a blue jelly blob nicknamed Splat filling the obligatory role of comic relief sidekick. Ethan’s sexual orientation is handled in a positive light, with his crush on a boy named Diazo (Jonathan Melo) being presented in a very innocent and refreshingly nonchalant way. Gyllenhaal also really throws himself into the role of the dad, offering a fully committed vocal performance.

Where Strange World falls somewhat short is in the story department. The overarching themes about a family learning to overcome their differences and work together, particularly balancing the expectations between fathers and sons, are nicely handled in some ways, but also a bit obvious and generic. The characters can also feel too one-note and aren’t always the most likeable. The film does introduce some more interesting ideas, especially in its second half, but a lot of it feels underdeveloped, with a twist that leaves more questions than answers. The film ultimately bites off more than it can chew, including an environmental message that takes hold in the last act and feels heavy-handed.

Directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Raya and the Last Dragon), with a screenplay by co-director Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon), Strange World is a film that feels like it ultimately doesn’t live up to its full potential, but still has enough positive elements to make it worth watching. With some lush and colourful animation, backed up by Henry Jackman’s fun musical score, it’s a largely unremarkable but enjoyable enough tribute to the B-movie adventures of decades past that should satisfy family audiences, whether in theatres or inevitably on Disney Plus.

Strange World opens exclusively in theatres on November 23rd.

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