Strange World is not a bad film, but it is entirely forgettable. Destined to cause fights during games of Trivial Pursuit in ten years when nobody believes it was a Disney film, it is predictable to a fault, though gorgeous to look at. The voice work is top-notch, and the diverse cast of characters is great to see, but the problem is nobody will see it. This might just be the film that caps off the latest Disney golden era.
Strange World Tries Too Hard To Be Weird
Legendary father and son explorers The Clades have spent their lives trying to find a way to get their people, the Avalonians, through a set of mountains to see where else they can settle. When the younger Clade, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), discovers a new plant that can produce electricity, he decides that he wants to stay in Avalonia and help his people live where they are. His father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), continues on, vanishing. Many years later, Searcher’s power source has led to many advances in Avalonian culture until one day; they notice it is dying. Together with his family, wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), and Avalonia President Callisto (Lucy Liu), they travel to a strange world to try and solve the issue, and where adventure meets them head-on.
There is way more to the story, but to go any further would be spoilers galore. This is a complete love letter to classic pulp storytelling, and in that regard, it succeeds right down to the classic style intro at the beginning of the film. As that is the look they are going for, the color palette is spot on, and as always, in this era of Disney Animation, the film is gorgeous. Unfortunately, the film’s story suffers greatly from being way too predictable. As soon as Jaeger disappears, you know he will be back later; as soon as we are introduced to Ethan, we know he doesn’t want to be a farmer like his dad and that they will fight about it, etc. There are no surprises to be found in Strange World, save for the film’s very last shot. You can write the script in your head as you are watching the film. As for the voice cast, each does the best they can to various levels of success. Gyllenhaal is such a talented actor, but he perpetually sounds like an 8th grader, no matter how old he is supposed to be. Quaid is unrecognizable and does a good job as the grizzled hardhead. Union and Young-White are great, as is Liu. It is refreshing to see such a diverse cast utilized here, and the inclusion of Ethan as a young gay man is treated with respect and seamlessly.
One wishes that this film didn’t feel so lifeless, though. A majority of the jokes fall completely flat, and the story takes forever to get to the very easy to see coming conclusion. There is just not enough to grasp onto to hold your attention. That has not been an issue in this era of Disney films. Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Zootopia, Big Hero 6, Encanto, and Moana these films are strong narratively and rich in characters. This is neither of those. Hopefully, this is just an anomaly in what has been a fantastic run of films.
With the lack of promotion and awareness, Disney is giving Strange World; you can see that they agree that this might not be their strongest showing. All in all, from the lack of faith they seem to have in it and the film itself, Strange World is not bad, but it is just okay, and that is sadly just not enough anymore.
Review by Jeremy Konrad
Disney’s Strange World is a predictable and lifeless ode to pulp style storytelling that feels like a capper to the latest golden run their animation department has been on.