Review: “Strange World” explores big themes in bold colors – entertainment



Strange World explores big themes in bold colors

(AP) – Is Searcher Clade the millennial dad in all of animated cinema? He’s got that telltale hipster beard. A sensitive voice like Jake Gyllenhaal. And he feeds his kid avocado toast with an egg on top.

Oh wait, that’s Gyllenhaal in Strange World, Disney’s pleasantly entertaining, beautifully rendered but slightly ponderous meditation on climate change and father-son dynamics. The actor charmingly voices a character drawn in such a way that he looks so much like him, you almost expect an animated swiftie to come along and ask about the infamous scarf. (Sorry, but it was kind of Taylor Swift month.)

The name “Searcher” itself also sounds vaguely millennial, but actually it is a reference to both the blessing and the curse of the Clade family, a fabled clan of explorers. In a prologue, we see the young seeker embark on a family expedition led by his father, the burly Jaeger Clade, whose aim in life is to find what lies beyond the barren mountains that call their home Avalonia surround. But before they get there, the young Searcher discovers something shocking.

It is a group of plants that appear to be illuminated, radiating with an invisible energy. What is this magic harvest? Searcher argues that they must bring it back to Avalonia, where it could serve many purposes. But Jaeger (voiced with appropriate harshness by Dennis Quaid) refuses to turn back. He tosses his compass to his young son and walks on alone. Twenty-five years pass.

wait what Dad stays away for 25 years? That really is a lack of parenting, and it’s no wonder the adult Searcher, when he has his own son Ethan (an adorable character sweetly voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), is a helicopter parent who’s a bit too very much in love with the boy. Grandpa is still revered around town with a large statue commemorating his exploits. But Searcher tells Ethan that despite his fame, Grandpa was a father who was mostly absent.

Let’s pause to consider the themes at play. We have climate change issues in the form of “Pando,” the critical energy resource that Searcher has now farmed and Avalonia modernized. And we have three generations of men: the very different hunters and searchers, a boomer and a millennial if you will, and then young Ethan trying to find his way. There’s a lot of dialogue here about breaking expectations to go your own way.

Add to that the not inconsiderable fact that Ethan has a same-sex crush. This has led some to cite the film as Disney’s first animated gay teen romance. That’s a bit of a stretch, as this budding romance is a subplot referenced by a number of characters, but by no means a huge topic of discussion.

But maybe that’s the point — if it’s not a major plot point, nor a sneeze-and-you-miss-it moment like that quick look at Beauty and the Beast in 2017, which was first announced Disney “gay moment”. It just goes without saying that when Ethan talks about his crush, he’s talking about Diazo, a boy, and no one, neither his parents nor his grumpy old grandfather, bats an eyelid. It’s also refreshing that the Clades are a multiracial family, and that’s not discussed either.

It has to be said that the film is definitely about men, despite the welcome but underutilized presence of Gabrielle Union as Searcher’s wife, Meridian – a fearless pilot – and Lucy Liu as Callisto, President of Avalonia. It’s Callisto who sets things in motion plot wise, when she arrives at Searcher’s door in her pando-powered airship with a stark warning: the pando crop is failing. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Seeker help must come. Now.

The couch potato Searcher reluctantly jumps on board. Someone on the ship immediately asks him if he can forge an autograph from his more famous father. aargh In any case, the ship goes to the roots that power the pando. Meanwhile, Searcher soon discovers that Ethan has been hiding on the ship, eager for his own adventure (and more Jaeger-like than Searcher cares to admit). Meridian followed him and now they’re on a family trip.

And who should show up besides Jaeger himself? He has a lot to explain. It turns out he’s stuck in a stunning, spooky, and strange underworld. And it’s beautiful. Directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen have created a stunning universe of psychedelic colors and creatures, most memorable in deep pinks and purples. Wondrous creatures make an appearance, as well as one of the cutest little blobs you’ve ever seen, the aptly named Splat, who befriends Ethan.

Will the family figure out what’s endangering Pando and fix it in time to save Avalonia? Will Jaeger and Searcher get along better? Will Ethan go his own way?

Well, there are neither many secrets here, nor nuances in the plot. The energies have been focused on the visuals and they make the experience worthwhile. That and an appealing collection of human characters that look a lot more like the real world than you typically see in these movies. And that’s not strange at all. That’s progress.

Strange World, a Walt Disney Studios release, was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for action/danger and some thematic elements.” Running time: 102 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

MPAA Definition of PG: Parental Guidance Recommended. Some materials may not be suitable for children.

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