REVIEW: ‘Strange World’ Offers Up A Gorgeous New World

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Strange World - But Why Tho

I love adventure movies and I love animated movies, which makes Strange World right up my alley. Strange World is an original Disney animated film that 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, and a three-legged dog. Set in Avalonia, a civilization encircled by uncrossable mountains, the film manages to tell a generational story of exploration, the impact it has on families, and how children can blaze their own trail, even if it doesn’t fit those who came before.

Jaeger wants to do what no one else has done, Searcher wants to protect his family, and Ethan just wants to experience life beyond his farm. When Avalonia is in trouble, the Clades are called to help save it and embark on an adventure to save their home. The film is co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen (written by Nguyen) and features a voice cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, and Lucy Liu.

The ultimate theme of Strange World is to be a steward of the planet and to leave something for the next generation to live in. That said, the road to this point is told through father-son relationships, the ultimate fear of becoming our parent, and the importance of listening to children. It’s a story that we’ve seen multiple times and while it isn’t revolutionary storytelling, it executes multigenerational relationships extremely well. For each of their part, Jaeger, Searcher, and Ethan feel like dynamic whole characters. Jaeger is the grizzled explorer and bastion of masculinity and success who learns that there is more to life than adventure. Searcher is a family man who finds himself out of his element on an unpredictable mission after shunning the path Jaeger set him on. His aversion for adventure and the way it can rob a son of his father leaves him to overcorrect by stifling his own son’s wishes. And finally, Ethan just wants to do more, he wants to love, he wants to learn, and he wants to find wonder in the world any way he can.

Strange World’s heart is where each relationship and character converge. The Clade men are all headstrong in their own ways and while the differences are what drive the film’s main conflict, the care in painting their similarities is what makes the familial story special. As much as this is a story about Ethan and Searcher’s relationship as father and son, by adding in Jaeger audiences get the chance to see the push and pulls of legacy and expectations.  And much like last year’s Encanto and this year’s Turning Red, the takeaway is simply to talk and more importantly to listen to the generations before and after you. And in doing so, right the mistakes caused by the weight of expectations.

It should be noted, however, that Ethan, while central to the story doesn’t manage to feel like the main character. Instead, Searcher does. He has to navigate his bad relationship with his father and his own choices that are pushing Ethan away. Searcher is the most important character of the film and manages to be the point at which audiences see each conflict resolved. Pushed and pulled by his father and his son, but the central figure nonetheless.

Strange World unfolds like most stories in this adventure genre. Its predictable narrative is simple but at the same time the beauty of the “strange world” under Avalonia is breathtaking. Vibrant and tactile, the world is lush and the creature design is a complete standout. The beauty of this animation is unmatched by much of what Disney has put out this year. It’s creative, thoughtful, and ultimately an imaginative exploration of the environment. Additionally, Stange World embraces hallmarks of adventure classics, from music to tropes, and of course stellar comic book elements, that show a mastery of the genre. There is a deep understanding of what makes adventure films good, and an even better creative eye on how to make, well, a strange world.

While I can’t say that Strange World is my favorite animated film this year, it’s a strong showing for Disney and ultimately manages to capture paternal relationships without feeling like too much of the same “let’s talk generational trauma” from the rest of Disney’s slate the last couple of years. What really makes Strange World a film to watch is the creativity and care that is put into developing the new world being explored. Beautiful and original in nearly every artistic decision, that is a reason to sink into this animation.

Strange World is in theaters nationwide November 23, 2022. 


Strange World
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

While I can’t say that Strange World is my favorite animated film this year, it’s a strong showing for Disney and ultimately manages to capture paternal relationships without feeling like too much of the same “let’s talk generational trauma” from the rest of Disney’s slate the last couple of years. What really makes Strange World a film to watch is the creativity and care that is put into developing the new world being explored. Beautiful and original in nearly every artistic decision, that is a reason to sink into this animation.

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