Here’s my Strange World review in a nutshell: I didn’t like it. I just want to get that out of the way so you know the lens through which the rest of this review is coming.
As you’ve undoubtedly heard, this film touts Disney’s “first openly gay character.” Or as others have noted, Disney’s 8th “first openly gay character.” What I hate the most about this milestone is that it IS a milestone. If you want to normalize gay teens, just have a gay teen. Don’t create media flurry about it.
With this media flurry, I’ll admit that the storyline weighed over my head when I walked in. I wanted a good story with good animation. And I wanted it to feel like a story that kids and adults could enjoy together. I was worried I wouldn’t get that.
I sat there thinking why does this movie need a gay teen romance or ANY teen romance? Is that really needed in a kids movie? Then I checked myself. I thought about all the Disney movies I’ve seen and loved. And most of them involved some sort of romance. Snow White and Prince Charming, Tiana and Prince Naveen, Anna and Kristoff, etc. Romance absolutely belongs there. This is simply a movie for a new generation.
However, the movie did feel like it was pushing an agenda. There was a focus on diversity and inclusion, for which I applaud them. But when it becomes the focus of the movie, it almost detracts from the storyline.
Again, I tried to recognize my own lens for this movie and stay open-minded. But when I walked out and heard other moviegoers (all people of color) talking about the film, I asked if I could join in the conversation. While no one disliked the movie (“it was cute”), their first reactions were about how many boxes Disney was trying to check. “We get it. You don’t need to shove it down our throats” were some of the words uttered.
And as much as I hate to lead a movie review with why this attempt at diversity and inclusion felt overdone, it’s actually not the reason I didn’t like this movie. I felt like Disney was trying hard and checking the boxes and all that. But I really just wanted a good story. And I didn’t get it.
Strange World is set in the fictional land of Avalonia – a small city surrounded by tall, impenetrable mountains. They’re virtually cut off from the rest of the world and live relatively primitive lives.
Enter the exploring family of the Clades! Here’s where the film offers an homage to Indiana Jones, even using the same typeface as we learn about Jaeger Clade, a big jocular hulk of a man who’s an explorer at heart. His goal? To find a way through those mountains. Why? We’re not really sure.
His reluctant sidekick is his son, Searcher, who is a scrawny teen that literally just wants to stop and smell the flowers. He’s a bit of a klutz and dad steps in to save him time and time again. Until Searcher confesses that he doesn’t want to continue exploring.
He’s made a plant discovery and wants to take it back to Avalonia to see if it’s of some value. And Jaeger decides to continue on to find a passage through the mountains.
WHAT A COMPLETE JERKFACE OF A DAD! That’s what Disney wants you to think. They’ve created this prologue so that we understand why Searcher hates his dad and refuses to even talk about him to his own son. In fact, his biggest fear is that his son will become an explorer like his dad (OH THE HORROR!).
Unbeknownst to Searcher, his dad actually falls and gets trapped in a “strange world” and is accidentally found when Searcher and friends go on a mission to save their vital plants.
Instead of a tearful reunion, we spend most of the rest of the movie listening to Searcher yell about his Daddy issues. Sounds really fun and entertaining, right?
Disney took what could have been a fun concept, turned the characters into caricatures (Searcher is a sensitive farmer, Jaeger is full of toxic masculinity), checked every box imaginable, and created characters that were so inconsistent (looking at the Lucy Liu character, Callisto Mal, here) that you couldn’t even figure out who the protagonist was and who the antagonist was.
Yes, this is a harsh review. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to overlook all the things that I knew I wouldn’t like and just fall in love with the story and animation. But it just lacked originality. It felt like Moana meets Avatar meets Journey to the Center of the Earth.
And when I look back at some of Disney animated features from recent years, some of my absolute favorites are on that list: Moana, Big Hero 6, Tangled, etc. Disney can do better from a story perspective. If they strive for improvement, I promise I can too.
(At least I liked Splat – I’m a sucker for a good sidekick!)
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed adventure “Strange World” introduces a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog and a slew of ravenous creatures. The voice cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, a family man who finds himself out of his element on an unpredictable mission; Dennis Quaid as Searcher’s larger-than-life explorer father, Jaeger; Jaboukie Young-White as Searcher’s 16-year-old son, Ethan, who longs for adventure; Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade, an accomplished pilot and Searcher’s partner in all things; and Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, Avalonia’s fearless leader who spearheads the exploration into the strange world. Helmed by Don Hall (Oscar®-winning “Big Hero 6,” “Raya and the Last Dragon”) and co-director/writer Qui Nguyen (co-writer “Raya and the Last Dragon”), and produced by Roy Conli (Oscar®-winning “Big Hero 6,” “Tangled”), “Strange World” releases November 23, 2022