Disney animation and Pixar are pretty good at infusing real-world issues into the fantastical worlds they create for the big screen. Strange World is another such film. Most of the time it’s not until the viewers see the movie do they know what it’s actually about. Once again that’s the case with this film. The overlying topic of explorers discovering a new world is just the topping of a dessert or cake. What’s inside is the surprise filling or ice cream in some cases.
Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is an explorer. He hopes to make his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) one as well. He has other ideas though. When he discovers a rare plant he changes his future from this moment on. When the world he has helped create starts to have problems he must try to save what he helped build. His son Ethan (Jaboukie Young White) and his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) inadvertently get wrapped up in this adventure and he may have realized some things about himself he didn’t realize.
Strange World has a visual style that is pretty gorgeous. Don Hal, the director, has worked on a lot of animation in his Disney career. From Raya and the Last Dragon to Big Hero 6. He is a true Disney stalwart. Like his other films, he finds a way to make them relatable for the audience watching. The overlying story of fathers and sons who have a love-hate relationship isn’t anything new in Hollywood or Disney films. But this one hit home for me because I didn’t get along with my father for years. The thing is you only have one father and you should try to make the most of the time you have with him.
This film has another storyline though and that one is a bit heavy-handed. This whole idea of plants that help sustain a society and so forth along with saving natural resources like, in the case of our planet, oil, hasn’t really been done to this date by Disney animation. So to see this film and where the story goes is a bit jarring. I didn’t expect a film about saving the planet even though there is a bit of that on a poster or merchandising. I’m all for films about saving the planet but this one went to the next level with that idea.
The thing Disney Animation, Pixar, and as a studio, they do right is the casting of their films. The cast is fantastic in Strange World. The back-and-forth banter between the fathers and sons is done very well. Jake Gyllenhaal does a lot of the heavy lifting as this father deals with a lot between his son and his father. He handles this role very well. It’s nice to see him in these more mature roles. Even though it is an animated film.
What Disney and Pixar are great at is their animation and making their film accessible. Strange World is definitely that. It has beautiful colorful animation that jumps off of the screen. The colors are vibrant and the creatures are very interesting as well, to say the least. This movie asks the viewer to be completely immersed in the overarching plots but it doesn’t skimp on the visuals that have made them who they are as a studio.
Strange World has some heavy-handed messages in it. And some good messages. The father-son aspects were very good and I can relate to them a lot considering my own problems with my father. The animation and voice-over work are the strengths of the film. Disney and Pixar like to do a lot of stuff in their movies. I usually like the messages they infuse with their films but this time was a little too much. I completely can get on board with an environmental storyline but this was a little bit much.
3 ½ stars
Dan Skip Allen