Strange World, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest animated feature, explores the beauty and need to value the world we live in as well as familiar family themes.
Disney is bringing families together at the theaters this holiday season with Strange World. The legendary animation studio follows the Clade family on their adventure to save their homeland, Avalonia, from losing its primary resource for power, Pando. Pando is a magical plant that essentially grows clean energy batteries until something begins to kill the crops. President of Avalonia, Callisto Mal, enlists Searcher Clade to join her on the expedition. Unexpectedly, his wife, son, and long-lost father all end up joining the adventure. Together, they must overcome their differences to survive this new land, and save Avalonia.
A Gorgeous World Right Beneath Us
From the first scenes of the movie, Strange World stood out as a visual marvel. The detail in the animation is easily some of the best that the Walt Disney Animation Studios has ever produced. It is very apparent once they travel to the underworld, where they are not bound to ground the designs in reality. The color, shapes, and behavior of the strange world is a hint to the larger story. It’s such a rich setting it essentially acts as another character.
The way it interacts with the main characters of the film is very much like that of Pandora in Avatar. It is a living thing that harms and heals. It provides danger, heart, and comedy, and enhances the situations our heroes find themselves in. Plus, it is a wonderful embodiment of pure imagination. It isn’t trying to replicate or be a version of reality, or even be understood. It doesn’t abide by a familiar set of physics, though it does abide by science. It goes out of this world while focusing on very in-this-world characters, which provides a really unique synergy of setting and setup.
Family. Gotta Love’em
This is to say, the Strange World sets up the driving force of the film, which is family. It is a bit cliche, but one that works perfectly, especially this time of year. The Clades are not a perfect family and have a lot of issues that they need to work out. Jaeger Clade is focused on exploring and finding the unknown. His son, Searcher, is focused on solving the problem. Searcher’s son, Ethan is discovering who he is and how much of his family’s personality is shared genetically. They are all supported and kept in check by Meridian Clade, who is Search’s wife, Ethan’s mother, and everyone’s pilot.
She lifts them all up in many ways and also keeps them grounded.
Another very powerful aspect of the film is the normalcy of all the different dynamics of the Clade family. mixed race couple, mixed-raced child, and he is openly gay. There is no fanfare or special focus, it is treated just like any other family with a child who has a crush. It will go largely unnoticed by many, which is astounding. But it is sure to be too much to ask certain people to acknowledge that many differences from their own lives at the same time. But in my personal opinion, These factors are presented as part of the characters, not the definition of them. The family is so normal, they are essentially a trope.
The prevailing theme of the Clade family is legacy. Both Jaeger and Searcher are driven to leave behind something of great value to their son. It is a noble pursuit, that causes harmful and hurtful actions and choices. It is a great exploration of ends justifying the means, and examination of what is truly important in life. There is no one right answer, and we get to see how it plays out for each member of the Clade lineage.
It also delves into starting your own legacy with Ethan. Ethan sees himself in mother, his father, and his grandpa, but also realizes the parts of himself he doesn’t necessarily want to embrace. He also has his own aspirations and ideas that his parents just don’t understand. His journey of discovery and getting his parents to realize he is growing up and becoming his own person, as he tries to teach his elders about the values he’s learned that they obviously have not is essentially every kid who comes home for Thanksgiving. Finding the line between respecting your elders, but also showing them they might not have the full picture.
It’s the Thanksgiving family drama, set in a strange new world.
Strange World Familiar Story
But as great as the story, the themes, the inclusion, and the performances are. The story feels familiar. It is a visually stunning film that does have surprising elements, but it still feels like a paint by numbers. It may be an incredibly cool and intricate picture you’ve never seen, but it feels familiar. When the film reaches its climax, it will feel like a show that bends the elements. It will also begin to ring the bells of a magical bus of adventures from the past.
Strange World is currently playing in theaters.
Strange World does everything incredibly well, it just all feels too familiar. It feels a lot like driving a new car of the same model. There are some incredible new features that you wonder how you ever managed without before. Improvements in performance all over. But right after that, it just feels like your car. It’s not bad, it’s just not great. It has all of the traits of a great Disney animated feature. It just doesn’t feel great. It fits in, it is thoroughly enjoyable, and an absolute thrill to watch on the biggest and best screen possible. It just won’t stick with you once the credits start rolling.
Strange World has all the traits of a great Disney animated feature but feels far too familiar to stand out. Because of its staggeringly short-lived wow factor, I give Strange World a 3.5/5
About Strange World
Release Date: November 23, 2022 (USA)
Director: Don Hall
Producer: Roy Conli
Screenplay: Qui Nguyen
Production companies: Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed adventure “Strange World” 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.
The voice cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, a family man who finds himself out of his element on an unpredictable mission; Dennis Quaid as Searcher’s larger-than-life explorer father, Jaeger; Jaboukie Young-White as Searcher’s 16-year-old son, Ethan, who longs for adventure; Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade, an accomplished pilot and Searcher’s partner in all things; and Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, Avalonia’s fearless leader who spearheads the exploration into the strange world.
Are you excited to explore a new Strange World? How many generations of your family interact regularly? Are you familiar with biology? Let us know your thoughts and reactions to the film on social media!