Who is it all for? That’s the question asked by Strange World, the latest Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film.
With a grandfather/father/son dynamic that constantly questions legacy, Strange World is deeply interested in how the actions of one generation affect the next, but also begs the question: who is the target for this movie?
Strange World has gained headlines. Partly this is due to some much-needed representation: it thankfully has an openly gay main character where this comes up several times and isn’t just a passing reference.
But partly the newsworthiness was for being a box office bomb. Mixed reviews have criticised a predictable plot that offers little new, but you know what all those critics have in common? They are adults.
Adults who have likely seen movies such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Inner Space and Fantastic Voyage. Adults who know what pulpy fiction is and see Indiana Jones everywhere.
However, I can personally confirm that in the inexperienced eyes of my child, Strange World was a fresh and exciting tale whose plot was babbled happily to me after a successful cinema trip.
What is Strange World About?
Thematically, director Don Hall’s latest tackles legacy in more ways than one. The power source – ‘Pando’ – used in the world of Avalonia is dying. Its discoverer, farmer Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) must find out why.
Yet he doesn’t count on his teenage son Ethan as a stowaway for the trip (Jaboukie Young-White), and matters are complicated by the return of Searcher’s own long-lost explorer father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid). Their journey through unexplored territory throws up unimaginable wonders, and unforeseeable dangers.
The theme of finding a power source that the next generation can rely on without damaging the environment is clearly a prescient one. But it is the interplay between father and son, both up and down the generations, that drives home the universal message of Strange World.
Even those who strive not to repeat the mistakes of their past can run full circle back to the same problems.
Strange World Official Trailer
Is Strange World Worth Watching?
Visually, Strange World is a sumptuous and colourful delight. Don Hall’s previous co-directing credits on Big Hero 6 and Moana feed in to both the glory of nature and the excitement of science fiction.
The spirit of exploration – and how every new locale can be a jaw-dropping wonder – runs deep in this movie and is the element that most captures the imagination of those younger minds.
More seasoned heads will probably twig what is going on quite quickly. Strange World struggles to keep its cards close to its chest. Instead, it focuses on making the voyage as enjoyable as possible. Ethan makes for a fun protagonist for younger viewers and acts as their proxy for wide-eyed wonder as he drinks in all the new experiences.
The movie does focus on the dynamic between Ethan, Searcher, and Jaeger to the detriment of all others. A collective of other explorers fills up the time more than the screen and connects with neither our emotions nor have any agency in the plot.
Instead, we have the lovable presence of a dog to attempt to inject a further dimension, and an amorphous blue creature called ‘Splat’ that calls to mind the non-verbal communication of the magic carpet in Aladdin.
All in all, Strange World achieves what it sets out to. The inter-generational dynamic is portrayed well, depicting reasonable points of view all round, and the ‘voyage into the unknown’ element is pumped full of wonderous energy.
The result is a warm embrace of a movie that is having fun and would love you to join the family.
Words by Mike Record
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