strange world Movie Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu
strange world Film directors: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
strange world Movie Star Rating: 2 stars
It’s not just a strange world that is introduced to us in this new Walt Disney adventure. The legendary Clade family of explorers traverses world after world, each stranger than the last: from one where icy mountains grow verdant plants, to another called Avalon, where everything is powered by those verdant plants, to the next where strange, blob-like creatures soar in the air, alongside shockingly pink birds that feel predatory to one where the blue ocean is surrounded by a giant cyclopean eye.
I’m sure there’s more, but I’ll stop now because this movie isn’t just a journey around many worlds in two hours. It highlights family values, the burden of expectations, father-son relationships, strong women and gay young men, open and proud. There have been other Disney films that have experimented with gay characters, but Strange World is the first in which the main character drives the narrative. Ethan Clade (Young-White) is a teenager who is madly in love with a classmate and has no idea how to tell him like any other young person his age. That’s the good thing about the film.
But not much else. Strange for a film that offers us worlds full of flora and fauna that we have never seen before and spectacular landscapes. But how many orange birdlike creatures and bright green blobs can you be in awe of? Very soon, too soon actually, all these things that Disney must have spent millions and months on will fade into the background.
Only when the people and their conflicts, large and small, come to the fore does the film come to life. Old man Jaeger Clade (Quaid) is an intrepid explorer and refuses to stop his quest for a place beyond the mountains, even when his son Searcher (Gyllehaal) returns with a miracle plant in hand. It’s only when Avalon is in danger that Searcher, along with son Ethan, wife Meridian (Union), an adorable three-legged mutt, and the sharp-eyed Callisto (Liu), set out on a quest to find the magical elixir that will save Fertile Land.
Old Jaeger, who hasn’t been seen in twenty-five years and who is still as short-tempered as ever, appears promptly. And off we go for everyone. Zigzag spaceships, smart rescues, and finally, daddy problems get solved. It’s all very Disney. What stays with you is young Ethan and his sparkling, shy romance. As one character says to another, “What, there are no villains? This is bad storytelling.
The storytelling in Strange World isn’t exactly flimsy. It’s just a tread by numbers that only pops up every now and then.