Action Adventure

Review: ‘Strange World’ is a Familiar-Feeling Animated Adventure that Fails to Fully Explore Its Premise

November 22, 2022Ben MK

As human beings, exploration is in our nature, from the likes of Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Likewise, the legions of animators who have called Disney Animation Studios home can also be considered trailblazers in their own right. And in Strange World, they're taking moviegoers on a journey very much in theme with the pioneering spirit that has defined the studio since its doors opened nearly a century ago, in this multi-generational tale about the unbreakable bond of family, the lasting power of legacy, and the awe-inspiring wonders of discovery.

The setting is the fictitious town of Avalonia, a picturesque and secluded place nestled by nature, whose inhabitants have never known of anything beyond the massive mountain ranges that entirely surround them. But while many of the Avalonian people may be perfectly content living out the rest of their lives not knowing what lies outside of this peaceful domain, there's one man who won’t rest until he's conquered this greatest of unknowns. A revered and accomplished explorer who has every intent of having his 15-year-old son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) follow in his footsteps, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) has assembled a team of like-minded individuals, including Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) and a reluctant Searcher, as they endeavor to make their way up and over the rocky and snow-covered peaks that encircle their home. However, when Searcher suggests they turn back after encountering some never-before-seen plant life that could forever change life in Avalonia, it leads to a falling out between father and son, with the elder Clade continuing onward on his own, never to be seen again.

Fast forward 25 years, and that plant — which Searcher has named "Pando" — has indeed significantly altered the way the people of Avalonia live their lives. Thanks to the electrical current that courses through its leaves, Pando has allowed for all sorts of technological innovations, from electric coffee-makers to floating vehicles. And at the center of it all is now-40-year-old Searcher, his wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and their 16-year-old son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), who operate Clade Farms, where they grow and harvest Pando for both themselves and the rest of Avalonia. One night, however, the family receives an unexpected visit from Callisto, who informs them that the Pando's massive, interconnected root system has been under attack by a mysterious virus that threatens to decimate Avalonia's entire Pando crop. Consequently, Callisto has recruited a small band of intrepid explorers to travel deep into the heart of Pando's origins. And whether he likes it or not, she'll need Searcher's help if they're to have any hope of saving the Pando and preserving Avalonia's current way of life.

It's a rip-roaring adventure that will see this motley crew coming face to face with a subeterranean world they never knew existed — an entire ecosystem filled with a bewildering menagerie of strange sights, fantastical foliage and colorful creatures, but also brimming with hidden dangers lurking at every turn. Moreover, it's a journey of introspection and self-discovery in which Searcher will not only be reunited with the one person he never thought he'd see again — his father — but will also have to confront his own shortcomings as a dad himself. And in true Disney fashion, what follows will find these three generations of Clades mending their relationship rifts and learning to appreciate and love each other despite their differences.

Toss in a message about humanity's impact on the environment and the fact that the movie features a gay, bi-racial character — with a three-legged dog, to boot — and it's clear that director Don Hall and writer/co-director Qui Nguyen are intending for this to be more than just your average animated adventure. Still, even with those admirable intentions, the result is ultimately more forgettable than not. Make no mistake, the film has all the makings of a genuine Disney classic. Unfortunately, Strange World doesn't fully explore that potential; and so what viewers are left with isn't all that new and exciting, but rather something that feels all too familiar.

Strange World releases November 23rd, 2022 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for action/peril and some thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 42 min.

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