To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Strange World is a computer-animated sci-fi adventure film directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon), the latter of which also wrote the screenplay. Featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, and Lucy Liu, Strange World is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 61st feature film. The story follows Searcher Clade, a farmer who embarks on a dangerous mission with his family to a mysterious world inhabited by bizarre lifeforms. While traversing the bizarre environment, Searcher finds his father, the legendary adventurer Jaeger Clade, who has been stuck there for over 20 years.
In the land of Avalonia, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is known as a fearless and legendary adventurer. His dream is to find out what lies beyond the unscalable mountains that surround their municipality. On his explorations, Jaeger takes his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) with him and tries to teach him everything he knows. Although Searcher is more captivated by plants than adventures. During one of their escapades, Searcher discovers a glowing green plant that’s filled with energy. He tells his father he thinks the plant is a better discovery for Avalonia than what lies beyond the mountains. After a brief argument, Jaeger heads off to finish the expedition alone, leaving Searcher with a compass to guide their crew back home.
Twenty-five years later Searcher lives on a large farm with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and their teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Since returning from his last expedition Searcher has planted and cultivated the glowing green plant, now known as Pando, in large quantities. The Pando provides clean and renewable energy for the entire country as well as aiding in their technological advancements. After harvesting the Pando together, Searcher and Ethan deliver shipments of the plant across town. Later that evening, the Clades are visited by Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu), the leader of Avalonia and former member of Jaeger’s expedition team. She wants Searcher to join her crew on a mission to find out what’s causing Pando crops to perish all across the country.
Strange World boasts very beautiful animation with Disney and Pixar continuing to lead in this department. With 61 films under their belt, I would expect nothing less from Disney Animation Studios. The abundance of colors on the screen is a visual treat. Avalonia is presented with a wide variety of greens while the mysterious underground world has a greater spectrum of colors. The detail given to each character is astonishing and the animators do a fantastic job showing the different skin tones, body types, facial features, and hairstyles that exist within an ethnically mixed family. While Ethan and Meridian have very similar hair, Ethan has a lighter skin tone exhibiting his mixed heritage. Searcher’s family is shown as a melting pot, with family members looking slightly different even though they are genetically related, which is something that needs to appear in more films.
The characters also reflect the stellar voice cast. Lately, viewers have craved more diversity in terms of who voices animated characters. Every main character in Strange World can be seen as a reflection of the actor that voices them. This was most likely done intentionally to make the characters feel and sound more real. Especially in the case of casting Jaboukie Young-White as Ethan since he is the first openly gay character in a feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The weakest part about Strange World is unfortunately the story. While there is an interesting twist, the focus becomes more of a heavy-handed message about our dependence on fossil fuels and climate change killing the planet. The better message the film offers is about the father-son relationship. Strange World covers everything from fathers wanting what’s best for their sons and sons becoming their fathers to the generational trauma that can be caused by a strained parental relationship. In the film, Jaeger wants Searcher to be an adventurer, but Searcher wants to be a farmer. Later, Searcher wants Ethan to be a farmer, but Ethan craves adventure. This is where the story worked best and the film is better for its inclusion.
At its heart, Strange World is a tale about the father-son relationship, but in its bones, it’s another movie about how humans are killing the planet. I give Strange World a Solid 6.5/10. The stunning visuals and a stellar diverse voice cast can only do so much for a mediocre story. I’m sure it will make a fun new world in Kingdom Hearts IV though!