Generally speaking, animated films keep the lights on and the doors open for movie theaters. Each year, this style of filmmaking manages to appeal to the same demographic that other genres constantly try to nudge their way into, the kids. Kids films always perform well at the box office, so what happens when one fails to bring in the dollar totals that its contemporaries do? That’s exactly what has happened to Disney’s newest release Strange World – a film that seeks to expand on the adventurous and monstrous storytelling of Disney animated properties, but fails in actually differentiating from company expectations.
Many successful animated films generally fall into one of two categories: they either appeal to general audiences or the critics. Theoretically speaking, Strange World should successfully appeal to one of these. It has a lush color palette and an atmosphere that’s easy to sink into, a cast of seasoned voice actors, and an expansive and ambitious narrative structure with gripping ideas about environmentalism and legacy. Unfortunately, it’s all packaged into a film that’s all too predictable and obvious at this point, especially for a movie studio that churns a handful of these out every year.
Strange World is working with ideas, and it’s the most admirable aspect about it. Many detractors and obnoxiously political critics will claim its politicized narrative caused its collapse at the box office and word of moth online, but honestly, the forwarded-pushing plotlines young Ethan (voiced by the wonderful Jaboukie Young-White) earnestly hitting on his male love interest, or the people of Avalonia scavenging resources, even to the detriment of their homeland, are the best parts of Strange World. Everything after it from a story perspective is a misfire.
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For being a film (barely) advertised for its eclectic and idiosyncratic set of beasts and animals, none of them stick out in any shape or form. Strange World is lifeless beyond a few characters. Jake Gyllenhaal (who voices the adult version of main character Searcher Clade) carries this film on his shoulder for long sections at a time. Dennis Quaid and Gabrielle Union also hold their own with a questionable script, but nearly everything else around them crumbles.
But the film’s most uninspiring aspect, and one that’s been the studio’s biggest issue for years on end now, is its animation style. Once again, Disney opts for a cutesy, overly cartoonish style that doesn’t match the tonal and thematic points of the film whatsoever. It’s bland and generic, and just a bit of thought could’ve elevated a film struggling to hold an audience member’s attention for longer than a few minutes at a time.
I went in optimistic for Strange World – mainly due to its throwback advertising that felt like a detour for the usual, formulaic Disney fodder, but the film feels like much of the same beats that Disney has covered before. It has a handful of fun ideas and interesting themes, but it is held back in an uninspiring and bland story.
It’s not that Strange World is bad, it just should’ve been much better. It has a third act with its positives (I particularly liked the main twist that I’ll avoid spoiling in this review, but it gave me some nice food-for-thought), but not enough to redeem a story that takes too long to set up without much fun or promise. The voice performances are fun, but it feels cobbled together beyond that.
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Strange World Cast and Credits
Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade
Dennis Quaid as Jaeger Clade
Jaboukie Young-White as Ethan Clade
Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade
Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal
Jonathan Melo as Diazo
Director: Don Hall
Writer: Qui Nguyen
Composer: Henry Jackman
Strange World movie on Letterboxd
Strange World movie on IMDb