Genre: CG Animation
Director: Don Hall
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Alan Tudyk, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu 
Runtime: 1 hr 41 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Mature Content)
Released By: Walt Disney
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 24 November 2022

Synopsis: The feature film 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. “Inspired by classic adventure stories," said director Don Hall, “‘Strange World’ is an original animated adventure/comedy about three generations of the Clade family who overcome their differences while exploring a strange, wondrous and oftentimes hostile world.

Movie Review:

We cannot remember when we’ve been so thoroughly disappointed with a Disney animation, but ‘Strange World’ unfortunately is guilty of that ignominy.

First things first, those curious why such a family-oriented action adventure would garner a NC16 rating should know that ‘Strange World’ boasts the first ever gay character in a Disney animated movie. Having seen the movie though, we must say we’re not sure what the fuss or buzz is all about, given how mild the references are to the character’s sexuality.

The character in question is Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), born to the inter-racial couple Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Meridian (Gabrielle Union). That Meridian is Black is obviously no coincidence, and yet another attempt at ensuring that ‘Strange World’ is some kind of milestone in terms of representation for Disney.

As the story goes, Searcher has spent the last 25 years farming the crop he names ‘pando’, a plant whose luminous fruit has become the source of power for the civilisation called Avalonia and enabled its rapid industrialisation from horse-drawn buggies to cars and spacecrafts. Alas, the pando crop has started failing due to a mysterious infection deep within its roots, and Searcher is enlisted by Avalonian president Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) for an expedition into the earth to find the source of the problem and save their way of life.

Despite being ordered to stay behind, Ethan sneaks on board Callisto’s ship, seizing the opportunity to explore a world beyond Avalonia. It’s not hard to guess that Searcher and Ethan will have to confront their mismatched expectations – whereas Searcher wants Ethan to follow in his footsteps to become a farmer, Ethan is more inclined to be an adventurer like Searcher’s father Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) was before he vanished into the wilderness.

Equally, it should not come as any surprise that the group will soon run into Jaeger, who despite having gone off the grid for more than two decades, comes off none the worse for wear. Jaeger and Searcher will have to confront their own tensions, the latter still blaming the former for leaving him and his mother just so he could satisfy his personal curiosity of what was beyond the mountains. Both sets of father-son dynamics ultimately boil down to a simple lesson of embracing our children for who they want to be, instead of who we want them to be.

Though both director Don Hall (of ‘Moana’ and ‘Big Hero 6’) and co-director/ writer Qui Nguyen (of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’) are veterans of such coming-of-age stories, ‘Strange World’ comes off emotionally hollow and trite. As earnest as Quaid, Gyllenhaal and Young-White are about their respective father-son angst, their lines are tired and their conflicts too easily resolved. Ironically, the female characters – namely, Meridian and Callisto – make a stronger impression, especially as role models in their own right.

Without a strong emotional backbone, ‘Strange World’ ends up being no more than a pulpy adventure set against fantastical creatures and landscapes. There is much to admire in this iridescent ‘Jurassic World’ of pink-hued floating and lumbering monsters including Day-Glo pterodactyls, slow giraffe-like animals and an amoeba-like blue blob that Ethan befriends and names ‘Splat’. The visuals are dazzling and even hypnotic all right, complemented by homages to old-school Disney adventure films like ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, nods to different animation styles and some breathtaking stills reminiscent of ‘splash pages’ in comic books. Even so, it is difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of it all when the action unfolds at such a frenetic pace, as if afraid to lose the attention of its male demographic.

So even though the animation is top-notch, ‘Strange World’ ultimately leaves much to be desired both in terms of story and character. Coming from Disney, that is even more discouraging. Neither its obvious environmentalist message or its deliberate representation redeems this sorely underwhelming animation from its fundamental shortcomings, which we dare say marks one of the worst we have seen from Disney in a while. Perhaps therefore its NC16 rating is an ironic blessing in disguise, so kids won’t have to sit through such tedium and wonder where 100 years of magic (as the opening credits proudly tout) had gone to.

Movie Rating:

(In addition to featuring the first gay character in a Disney animated movie, 'Strange World' is queer also because of how underwhelming it is in terms of story and character development, marking one of the worst Disney efforts in recent memory)

Review by Gabriel Chong 

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