Strange World review: Disney’s ambitious fantasy deserves more

This review was originally published with with strange worldwas out in theaters. It has been updated and republished for the film’s online release.

When Disney musicals traditionally a hit for audience success, the animation studio is different movie – the best friend comedythe action adventurethe sci-fi epic – is greater risk with different returns. Zootopia and Muscled man Beloved, sure, but also the whole range of mistakes in the early 2000s that only became popular many years after its release.

strange world is Disney’s latest big gamble: a whimsical movie inspired by classic sci-fi and pulp magazines. Directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, who previously worked together on Raya and the last dragon, this new Disney movie is an absolutely gorgeous genre festival bogged down by cliché family drama. There are two stories that struggle with it here: a wildly good sci-fi epic, and a family story that essentially sums it up that “this dream is not minedad — that’s your.”

[Ed. note: This review contains some slight setup spoilers for Strange World.]

in a scene from Strange World, a teenage boy looks out over a magical landscape where everything is pink, orange, and red;  there are floating rocks and clouds covering them

Image: Disney

strange world takes place in the fantasy land of Avalonia, which is surrounded on all sides by impenetrable high mountains. Twenty-five years ago, brave explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) led an expedition team trying to conquer those mountains, but the expedition was halted when his son Searcher (Jake) came to a halt. Gyllenhaal) discovered a strange energy-producing plant.

Jaeger stubbornly continued to move forward, while Searcher and the rest of the team returned to Avalonia and eventually turned the plant, known as the pando, into a source of energy. Currently, the recent pando crops have failed, so the Seeker must embark on a quest to find out what is affecting them, even though he would rather stay on his farm. With him is his teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), who secretly dreams of becoming an adventurer. Seeker, Ethan, and a group of adventurers end up in a strange world (ha) beneath the mountains, and soon they find Jaeger again. Tension breaks out between two different father and son pairs as they both try to save the main energy source of their land.

in a scene from Strange World, a beautiful landscape where everything is orange, pink, and red;  two silhouettes staring at the vista point, which is full of cliff-like structures and strange creatures that look like dinosaurs

Image: Disney

Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning. strange world is a testament to why some movies Candlestick turned into animation — there’s no way this gorgeous weird world, with its warm colors and constantly moving organic shapes, would look this good in a live-action movie. And it’s not just the wacky world beneath the mountains. Avalonia itself is a fun sci-fi/steampunk-style world where everyone has their own coffee machine and personal balloon, but no cell phones or video games. Their technology is familiar enough to set the stage for the film, yet unique enough to be compelling. However, the heart of the movie comes from the real weird world, and every part of it is an interesting one.

The main problem is that the emotional bond between the Clade family feels like it’s cornered in an adventure story. If the movie were to shrink and focus on the quest to rescue the pando and explore this strange new world, it would be a solid sci-fi movie with an environmental message at its core. The Clade family’s struggles are a stumbling block that causes men who have had a bad relationship with their fathers, fighting to avoid going down similar paths, and in doing so, becoming their very own. which they seek to avoid.

in a scene of Strange World on the deck of a hot air balloon, a large burly man, a smaller man, a teenager, and a blue amorphous blob are playing cards

Image: Disney

That might be an interesting dynamic to explore in another movie, but strange world there is a more interesting story with higher stakes, more urgency going on and a limited run time to take place. Admittedly there are some touching scenes between each father and son pair. One of the best games involved Ethan engaging his father and grandfather in his favorite card game, a sort of Settlers of Catan-inspired strategy game similar to his current exploration of surname. With more nuance and novelty, these relationships can be something new, but the story “Sad because Dad left to explore” has been overused in sci-fi movies. think among the stars, Advertising Astraand Apocalypse. And in strange worldThe storyline is self-explanatory.

The arc of discovery is less predictable, and it has one of the coolest twists in a Disney movie — damn it, one of the coolest twists in science fiction. As the film’s emotional heart focuses on a group of ragtag adventurers doing their best to save the world they know, it’s a grand and exciting adventure, with stunning scenery and Magical creatures at every turn. When the film focuses on a broader spectrum, it shines, but when it comes back to over-relationships, it loses what makes it sparkle. Those parent-child dynamics seem like they’re supposed to anchor the movie to some reality, but all they do is pull strange world down when it can soar.

strange world Currently streaming on Disney Plus.

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