Strange World has spectacular animation and a creative storyline but tries too hard to earn the diversity merit badge. The premise has a family of explorers trying to save their country from a mysterious blight. They embark on a fantastic adventure with environmental and patriarchal reckoning themes. What sticks out is an obvious attempt at multiculturalism. Strange World has an interracial marriage, a gay teenage son with a crush, and a three-legged handicapped dog. Let me be clear, I admire Disney’s inclusion efforts. But the film could have used more subtlety in the narrative while toning down the melodrama.
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Famed explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) leads his son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), and an expedition team on a critical survival mission. Their home, Avalonia, has meager resources and lays in a valley surrounded by an impenetrable mountain range. Jaeger is obsessed with climbing over the mountains. Searcher thinks his father is too concerned with fame and glory. He discovers a glowing green plant on their trek that zaps him. It could be a new source of energy. Jaeger vehemently disagrees. They must press onward. The father and son argue with Jaeger plowing ahead alone.
Twenty-five years later, the plant named Pando by Searcher has transformed Avalonia. Everyone has electric gadgets powered by the green miracle. Searcher, a hero to his people, lives a happy life as a Pando farmer. His beloved wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), flies a plane that sprays the Pando crops. Searcher’s teenage son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), doesn’t share his dad’s enthusiasm for farming. He’s enamored by another boy and yearns to be a courageous explorer like his missing grandfather.
Searcher notices that the Pando buds are starting to shrivel. A visit from Avalonia’s leader, Callisto (Lucy Liu), confirms his worst fears. The Pando plants will die within a month. They share a common root structure deep underground. Callisto needs Searcher to join her efforts to save Pando. They fly down an ominous chasm into the depths of Avalonia. Searcher’s furious to find Ethan as a stowaway. The Clade family enters an exotic, hidden landscape. They encounter amazing creatures and a trapped human with a personal connection.
Strange World and Acceptance
Strange World teaches lessons of acceptance. Searcher and Meridian support Ethan’s love for another boy. The film treats this relationship as normal and to be encouraged. Friction occurs when Ethan refuses to be what Searcher wants. This mirrors Searcher’s rebellion against his father’s wishes. Grandfather, son, and grandson must come to terms with individuality. You must allow treasured progeny to find their own way.
Another critical aspect is humanity’s undesirable effects on the environment. Pando, symbolic of fossil fuels, propels Avalonian society forward but has a detrimental cost. Searcher comes to understand that his greatest achievement isn’t a feasible long term energy strategy. This causes blowback from Callisto. She won’t allow Avalonia to regress. Searcher must convince her that Pando is not the savior they thought it was.
Strange World has Impressive CGI Animation
Strange World gets top marks for impressive CGI animation. The weird terrain, plants, and animals all look incredible. Ethan befriends a blue-colored, oddly-shaped creature he calls Splat. They can’t understand Splat’s gurgling, but its assistance leads to a major reveal.
The film has humorous moments but pours on the drama. The bickering between Jaeger, Searcher, and Ethan gets old, especially when it’s evident they’ll come to terms. Strange World will undoubtedly be criticized by conservative audiences that don’t share its values. It strikes at the heart of a cultural conflict. Interracial marriage, homosexuality, and disabilities shouldn’t be an issue. I view Strange World dispassionately as a moderately entertaining children’s film. But recognize that it expresses viewpoints others may find controversial.
Strange World is a production of Walt Disney Animation Studios. It will have a theatrical release on November 23rd from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
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