Strange World is a heart-warming family film from Disney in which Jake Gyllenhaal’s reluctant explorer finds a whole new world… and then some. Here’s our review.
Disney has had a rough time recently. They’ve just changed management around, their stocks are down and their films have been very hit and miss (cough Lightyear cough) – but with Strange World, it seems like they’re back on track.
In this one, Jake Gyllenhaal voices Searcher Clade, the son of famed explorer Jaeger Clade (Dejnnis Quaid). On a mission, Searcher finds a mysterious glowing plant which could provide their home, Avalonia, a stable future. Jaeger – stubborn, emotionally unavailable – refuses to turn back and goes off alone, disappearing forever.
Or so Searcher thought. When the plant, named Pando, starts dying, Searcher joins a crew heading below the surface to investigate. And what do they find? Jaeger, of course! Now, on top of saving Avalonia, Searcher also has to bond with his long-lost, estranged father and introduce him to his grandson Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White).
Strange World has flavours of both Moana and Avatar. Both are eco-friendly adventures into new worlds, but Strange World adds a lot more heart to its familiar narrative. The three generations of men at the heart of the film are relatable and their dynamics are as hilarious as they are recognisable.
Disney are also making a conscious attempt to be more inclusive and Strange World features both an interracial central relationship and an LGBTQ protagonist, neither of which is made into a big deal in the film thankfully. It’s still not a massive step forward in terms of representation, but it’s a start.
There’s also a lot of Indiana Jones to be found in Strange World’s DNA, but fortunately, the film manages to craft its own, unique identity. Even if Strange World never quite becomes an iconic Disney animation, it’s still well worth your time and ticket price.
Visually, Strange World is just stunning. The vibrant colours in the new world Searcher and co. find are paired with dynamic animation. Characters move and feel like they’re real and the film is full of small details which really bring the world to life.
And what is a Disney animation without some cool creatures? Strange World has plenty of those and they’re all inventive and fun. Splat, glimpsed in the trailer, provides great comedic relief, and the character designs look intricate enough to be interesting but generic enough not to make the world feel crowded.
Even with its visuals, Strange World could have ended up being just empty entertainment. Thankfully, writer Qui Nguyen – who is also credited as co-director along with Don Hall – really puts the themes in the front and centre. While Strange World doesn’t really say anything new about parental relationships, it says everything it has to say with heart and confidence at least.
Strange World focuses on a lot of familiar conflicts; our resistance against turning into our parents, the disappointment we cause them and equally, feel towards them and whether, in the end, we always still end up walking the same path as them.
The film and its messages about parenthood as well as the environment, are greatly helped by the wonderful voice cast. Turns out that Jake Gyllenhaal has a great, emotive voice for animation and he’s supported by Quaid and Jaboukie-White. Gabrielle Union, voicing Searcher’s wife Meridian, is also pitch perfect and brings a lovely warm, motherly quality to her voice performance.
Strange World is a far better Disney film than any of the studio’s more recent offerings. It remains a tad forgettable and lacks anything to set it apart from all the other films, animation or live-action, that explore these themes. Yet Strange World gives a modern edge to the classic Disney narrative and it does it with plenty of flair and style. Perhaps not quite an all-time favourite, but certainly a very good film, Strange World provides a world you’ll want to immerse yourself in.
Strange World is in cinemas November 23.