Arriving in UK and US cinemas today, just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend, is the animated movie, Strange World. The film – from Walt Disney Animation Studios – is the 61st entry in the Walt Disney Animated Classics collection, and follows the story of the Clades – a family of explorers, and their adventures on the mysterious planet of Avalonia.
In the movie, Jaeger Clade and his son, Searcher, are famous explorers who live on Avalonia. They embark on huge expeditions, always to the delight of Jaeger, but their latest adventure is very important to the planet.
The people of Avalonia are struggling to move forward with their civilisation, due to limited technological advancements. However, they believe they might stand a chance at further development, if only they could discover what exists beyond the mountains that surround their settlements – and this is where Jaeger and Searcher come into play!
Along with a specially selected team, the pair set off on an expedition to climb the mountains. They face harsh weather conditions and difficult terrain, but Jaeger is determined to succeed.
But Searcher is less enthused about their mission, and when he discovers an energy emitting plant along the way, he is ready to abandon the trek. He believes this plant – which he later calls ‘Pando’ – could be the answer to the planet’s problems.
Jaeger disagrees and vows to continue with the mission, pressing ahead solo. He separates from the team, leaving his son to return home with the plant.
Fast forward, 25 years and Searcher is now married, with a child of his own. He hasn’t seen his father for the past quarter of a century, but has made a living from harvesting Pando, which is now used as a valuable source of fuel for the planet.
However, one day, Searcher receives a visit from Callisto Mal, the leader of Avalonia. Callisto informs Searcher that some of the Pando crops appear to be infected by an unknown disease, and she needs his help in learning why.
Keen to get to the root of the problem, Searcher agrees to take part in a new expedition. But after all these years of becoming a simple farmer, is he ready to follow in his father’s footsteps?
Directed by Don Hall, Strange World features the vocal talents of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Lucy Liu, and Gabrielle Union. The movie is a sci-fi adventure picture, big on action and spectacle, and boasts some great animation, including some very imaginative imagery.
In terms of the look and the ideas on display in the film, Strange World certainly has an interesting concept and I expect there will be many young Disney fans who will enjoy it greatly. However, I don’t believe this to be one of Disney’s best animated movies, and while there is much to like, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the studio’s more recent offerings (Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon, etc).
To be clear, this isn’t me saying Strange World is a bad movie, because it isn’t; the film is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi romp. But it lacks some of the depth of its peers and when put alongside some of Disney’s finest work, it all feels a bit underwhelming.
The best way I can describe it, is that Strange World feels as if it could sit quite comfortably alongside Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). As with that film, it looks great, and certainly has its moments, but it isn’t quite top tier stuff.
However, despite not quite wowing me, there is still plenty to enjoy in Strange World, ranging from its nods to Star Wars, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Fantastic Voyage, through to its fine sense of adventure, and likeable side characters, including a three-legged dog. The movie also includes some very positive LGBTQ+ representation, which is a great step forward for Disney Animated Classics, as well as a sumptuous colour palette, and some superb visuals.
Where the film falls short is mostly in the story department, with the central theme of ‘fathers and sons’ not landing as well as it should. The script also doesn’t sparkle in the way that most Disney animated films do and the main characters aren’t anywhere near as interesting as the world they inhabit.
The movie also suffers from being too long. At 102-minutes the premise is stretched beyond its capabilities, and this means it shows signs of sagging a good 40-minutes before the end.
But as mentioned above, even with these issues, it is still watchable, so don’t think that it is not. It just doesn’t feel that much like a Disney Animated Classic, and perhaps that is the real problem.
As you can no doubt tell, I am trying to remain positive with Strange World as I really don’t want to descend into too much negativity here. The film didn’t work for me, but it will work for others, there is plenty of action, and ultimately it is fine to watch.
Disney continue to excel in their visuals, and Strange World is a prime example of this, but the story this time around is somewhat lacking and parts of the movie just feel a bit off. Lower your expectations accordingly and you may find it more appealing than I did.