Voices of Lucy Liu, Jaboukie Young-White, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, and Gabrielle Union in Disney's 'Strange World.'

(L to R) Voices of Lucy Liu, Jaboukie Young-White, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, and Gabrielle Union in Disney's 'Strange World.'

Journeying to theaters on November 23rd, ‘Strange World’ is the latest animated adventure from Walt Disney Feature Animation.

The company has a checkered history with adventure stories. The one-two flop punch of ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ and ‘Treasure Planet’ put the company off quests for a long time, while ‘Meet the Robinsons’ had pulpy retro thrills but didn’t connect with crowds.

So there is, understandably, a lot of pressure on ‘Strange World’, which offers up something similar to those movies, but with some modern sensibilities running through it that might just help it avoid the same fate.

The setting for this one is the community of Avalonia, whose occupants are obsessed with venturing beyond the mountains that cut them off from the rest of the world. Legendary explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) trains up a team to make the trip, looking to burnish his already sterling reputation by discovering what lies out there.

A prologue, animated in diverting style to look like pulp comic books, introduces us to Jaeger and his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), who goes with him on expeditions. Yet Searcher shows little sign of wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. On the big mission across the mountains, Searcher and the others discover a mysterious plant crackling with electricity. While Jaeger opts to keep on with the mission – and disappears – Searcher returns home, hailed as a hero, since the plants, which they name Pando, help Avalonia evolve to the next level of industrial revolution.

Voices of Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, and Gabrielle Union in Disney's 'Strange World.'

(L to R) Voices of Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, and Gabrielle Union in Disney's 'Strange World.'

Cut to 25 years later, and Searcher has realized his own destiny, working as a Pando farmer, with a family of his own – wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) is a pilot whose crop dusting missions help keep the plants safe, while son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) helps out around the farm, but has his own ambitions.

Yet when the Pando starts to show signs of dying out, Avalonia’s President Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu), another former member of the expedition team that discovered the plant, Searcher must embrace the idea of exploration, joining the mission to discover what is happening.

A journey that takes them to a mysterious world that lurks below their own, one teaming with weird creatures and perilous situations. Oh, and because you don’t tend to cast Dennis Quaid just for one scene, a certain long-thought-dead explorer.

Directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen who collaborated on ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (Nguyen here adds co-director to his credit, as well as writing the script again), infuse their latest movie with a lot of heart and thrills. And just a hint of ‘Jurassic Park’ when it comes to our heroes’ initial reactions to wonders around them.

Perhaps the biggest influences here are H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, whose stories are full of weird creatures and unknown lands, crossed with the pulp sci-fi magazines that were huge in the 1950s/60s and 1970s. And there’s also a healthy dollop of steampunk tech to be found.

“Strange World”

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed comedy adventure 'Strange World' releases November 23, 2022. © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Also healthy? The movie’s attitude towards LGBTQ+ relationships. After a few years of making nods towards the concept in some previous titles, having Ethan be openly gay (and with a same-sex love interest) and everyone else in the family be perfectly accepting is a great step forward. It’s walking the walk instead of simply talking the talk.

Then there’s Legend, the Clade family’s three-legged dog, who is a bundle of doggy energy who never lets one missing leg hold him back.

The cast all throw themselves into their roles – Quaid is gruffly enthusiastic as Jaeger, who has gone a little irrational during his time spent in the cavernous chamber. Gyllenhaal brings a likeable, relatable energy to Searcher, who is nervier than his dad, but still able to find the hero within when called upon.

Gabrielle Union’s Meridian plays well off of her family, and has her own storyline to enjoy, putting her piloting skills to good use when the crew’s own flyer is taken out by a tentacled terror (and since he’s voiced by regular Disney Animation player Alan Tudyk, that’s a fun nod to 2015’s ‘Serenity’ and his ill-fated pilot Wash).

Young-White, meanwhile, is an engaging Ethan, a lad who longs for his own life, but also loves his parents (except when they’re smooching in front of him). Liu has less to do as Callisto, but still factors into the story.

“Strange World”

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed comedy adventure “Strange World” releases November 23, 2022. © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Visually speaking, ‘Strange World’ is seriously impressive – a lot of thought has clearly gone into the design of the titular land and its denizens, a clever and narrative-worthy for every decision made. Even the squishy creature sidekick that Ethan names “Splat”, that could easily have edged into overused, annoying mascot territory has a purpose and a personality, the filmmakers smartly pointing out the main reason for its existence by having one of the characters exclaim that they can’t wait to merchandise it.

The same can’t completely be said for the story, which follows a relative basic track, albeit with one or two neat surprises lurking within. Beyond the smallest kids, pretty much everyone will be able to figure out how things will wrap up long before the end. But with characters this entertaining, it’s not so much of a concern.

There are some familiar beats to be found lurking within too, though – did we really need the 750th version of daddy issues? It’s the main driver of drama here, since Searcher resents his father for leaving to venture further while the rest of the party returned. And while they would appear to have a solid father-son relationship, cracks start to show between Searcher and Ethan.
Fortunately, there’s enough here that it doesn’t annoy to quite the same degree.

‘Strange World’ will have to work to beat the “adventure curse” at the box office, but it’s certainly a worthy entry in Disney’s canon and would make an ideal family trip to the cinema during the busy Thanksgiving holiday.

‘Strange World’ receives 4 out of 5 stars.

“Strange World” poster

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed comedy adventure “Strange World” releases November 23, 2022. © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Strange World

"Journey to a place where nothing is as it appears!"
64
PG1 hr 42 minNov 23rd, 2022
Showtimes & Tickets