Disney’s latest animated film, Strange World, takes inspiration from classic adventure films and pulp magazines, but crafts a story that sadly lacks wow factor. This was made clear to me by the little marketing I saw of the film, a clear sign of a studio giving up its own film. It’s not like Strange World is totally uncollectible. For children, this can be an entertaining experience. However, at the Inox Kiddle theater where I saw the film, the kids seemed more interested in the slides and went “Whee!” now and again. I don’t mind the intrusiveness. Less than halfway through I knew exactly where the film was going.
The Clades are a family of explorers, and exploring is what they will do until Judgment Day. At least that’s what the patriarch Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) believes. He ventures into the mountains surrounding the land of Avalonia with his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal). On one such journey, Searcher discovers a plant that radiates energy. Satisfied, he wants to return, but Jaeger wants to move on and find out what’s beyond the mountains. Furious at what he perceives as a lack of courage and ambition, he carries on while the rest of the expedition return to their country.
A quarter of a century later, Avalonia is awash with prosperity thanks to said energizing plant called Pando. Searcher is now a farmer growing pando and living a quiet life away from the city. He is also a married man and his child Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) resembles his grandpa more than he would have liked. His farm is visited by Avalonia’s President Callisto Mal (Luci Liu), who informs him that some kind of corruption is destroying the pando crop. To find out the cause, an expedition under the earth must be undertaken. In the bowels of the planet, the
Strange World is a beautiful looking film. The colors are used consciously and carefully. Beneath the planet, the Avalonians are discovering a whole new world, something we’ve seen in numerous films and novels (Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth). However, the treatment of the underlying world is quite imaginative and goes beyond the looks of the setting.
There are creatures without perceptible sense organs, but who nevertheless appear to emit sound and are aware of their surroundings. Some resemble giant octopuses made only of jelly. Some are dragon-like, but are considered less dangerous due to their blurry, translucent bodies. Some are just blobs. All this gives the world beneath the earth a touch of the afterlife.
But as good as the visual experience “Strange World” is, as a film it fails. The script, while not exactly “bad” per se, is painfully predictable. There’s a narrative twist at the end, something I suspect writer Qui Nguyen and director Don Hall thought was a twist. But the only thing it will elicit is a long drawn out moan. Coming from the Disney stables tends to lead to a sort of denouement. Strange World ends exactly as one would expect.
Cinematic pleasure can only be drawn from Strange World by comfortably watching animated films and familiar tropes and .
Nguyen and Hall last worked together on Raya and the Last Dragon, which was a thrilling, immersive experience that kept viewers engaged – not so much on this one. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I would suggest catching up on it instead.