“Strange World” review, cut to the chase: Filled with stunning visuals and a socially conscious cast of characters, “Strange World” is a pleasant, though forgettable, entry into the Disney vault.
Inspired by grand fantasy adventures like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with a style that reflects recent Disney films like “Onward” and “Soul”, “Strange World” follows a family of multi-generational explorers. On an important expedition, patriarch Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) ventures alone through the mountains, never to be seen again, while his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) returns home with a magical plant he dubs Pando, capable of bringing electricity and new technology to their primitive town.
Content as a farmer for the ensuing decades, Searcher is forced back into the wild unknown when the Pando plants fall sick. With his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) — Disney’s first openly gay teen character — and their three-legged dog by his side, Searcher joins Avalonia’s finest voyagers to journey into the mountain where Pando’s roots are under attack by incredible and incredibly strange creatures.
Co-directed by veteran Disney filmmaker Don Hall and newcomer Qui Nguyen who last partnered together for “Raya and the Last Dragon,” this latest animated entry ticks every box of a modern Disney film: progressive, thoughtful and attractive. There is plenty for the eyes to feast upon, and the animators have invented yet another world that pops off the screen.
What “Strange World” lacks, however, is a stronger emotional punch. Searcher is a relatively weak, insipid lead; Jaeger is a one-note, unsympathetic character. And Ethan, an earnest propeller of equity and inclusion in a historically exclusive studio, leaves no real impression either. Even in the film’s most heartfelt scenes, viewers will likely not be moved to even the brink of tears. Torn between action and emotion, “Strange World” is a nice one-time ride, a reason to take the kids out of the house on Thanksgiving while dinner cooks, but it certainly will not become anyone’s new favorite.
‘Strange World’: what to know
MPAA Rating: Opens Nov. 23; rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.
Recommended Age: 6+
Nightmare inducers: Most of the oddities in the Strange World are non-threatening, but the Reapers, with their amorphic, tentacled bodies and spiderlike appearance, may scare some trepid littles.
Difficult concepts or emotions: parental abandonment; fraught father-son relationships; understanding of human anatomy, namely for plot comprehension.
Candice McMillan is a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society and mother of two young daughters.