Disney: ‘Strange World’ Review

Screenshot from ‘Strange World’ on Disney+. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Studios.

Hey! Hallie here!

‘Strange World’ is the newest Disney animation film to drop on Disney+ and this one’s been a bit of a hot topic on social media. Unfortunately, it’s not because it’s receiving glowing reviews. It’s because most people didn’t know ‘Strange World’ existed until it showed up on the front of the Disney+ homepage. It was barely marketed at all, which comes across as suspicious considering its diverse cast and the inclusion of the first openly gay main character for Disney animation. And because of the complete lack of marketing that was done for this movie, ‘Strange World’ ended up being a major box office flop. But beyond the way Disney undermined their own movie, did ‘Strange World’ deserve the failure? In my opinion, no. This movie is extremely imaginative, includes so many likable characters, and is just gorgeous to watch. The story itself isn’t the most original or the cleanest story we’ve seen, but it’s still fun. I’ll get into my SPOILER review below, but if you haven’t seen this, I definitely think it’s worth a watch. We can at least show Disney that we appreciate it with Disney+ views.

What I Liked:

The Characters: Like I said above, the characters here are almost all extremely likable. I especially loved the family of three that’s at the center of the film. Searcher Clade, our main character, is really easy to sympathize with. This movie, much like ‘Encanto’, deals with generational trauma and Searcher is the first victim. He tries to be good dad, and in many ways he is, but he’s terrified of facing the adventurous qualities in his son that Searcher associates with his own father. It brings up old trauma, and though his controlling nature can be just as irritating for the audience as it is for Ethan, you understand why he can be overbearing. Then there’s Ethan Clade, our first openly gay character in a Disney animated film! Ethan’s crush on his friend Diazo is not subtle, nor is it hidden behind clever wordplay. It’s stated several times and Ethan’s always adorably flustered in his presence. It isn’t a major plot point of the movie, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just nice to see an openly queer character having fun adventures while also happening to be gay. And aside from his identity, he has many other likable qualities. While he’s definitely adventurous, he clearly has a better respect for his environment and other people than Searcher’s father Jaeger had. Lastly, Meridian is the final person in this trio and my favorite character in the movie. She’s badass, has the most hilarious comebacks, and proves herself to be the most intelligent and capable person on the crew on multiple occasions. At first I thought they would leave her character behind once the action started, but as the exploration party was leaving without her she pulled off a daring rescue of the entire party and landed herself a position as the pilot. She’s so awesome. Along with these three there are perfectly lovable characters like Callisto, Splat, and Legend who add their own insanely likable flavor to the movie. Overall ‘Strange World’ has a solid ensemble cast.

The World: ‘Strange World’ is one of those movies where a group of adventurers leave the world they know and enter a fantasy universe. The fantasy universe here is gorgeous and extremely unique. The colors are vibrant and beautiful, and though all the colors used are bright, they don’t clash with each other. I really liked how the constantly moving and pulsing environment blended seamlessly with the creatures the explorers encounter. There are characters like Splat who appear more gelatinous and almost blend in to the more fluid background elements, but there are also giant bird creatures and tentacled monsters that blend in because of their abnormal shapes and bright colors. I also really loved the twist tied to this fantasy world. It’s revealed that the land the characters live on is located on the back of a giant turtle, which is recognizable from Chinese, Hindu, and Indigenous mythologies. Because of that, the unknown world they’re exploring is actually the insides of this giant turtle creature. While that might sound gross, all of the visual elements lend itself well to a whimsical representation of the lungs, stomach, and even blood cells of a living creature. The design for this world was done so well that when the characters put together that they’ve been inside a creature for the entire movie, you put it together with them. If for nothing else, I’d rewatch this movie for the beautiful animation that went into bringing to life this fantasy world.

Caravan Palace: In one scene Searcher and Meridian dance to “Lone Digger” by Caravan Palace, which is one of the best Electro Swing songs ever made. The movie instantly got points for using this song.

What I Disliked:

The Story: I didn’t hate this story, but it isn’t perfect. It’s most definitely not as unique as the visual elements in the movie. I like a good generational trauma film, but the way the movie unfolded wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It’s a typical ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ type of film, where a man encounters an abnormal environment while having to patch up a rocky relationship with the young boy in his care. Just add on some ‘Indiana Jones’-like animosity between another father/son duo and you have ‘Strange World’. What I’m saying is it’s an amalgamation of various adventure movies, and the only thing it does differently here is good female representation. There’s also the problem of Jaeger, who could have remained a backstory character for Searcher instead of showing up in the main story and I don’t think it would have changed the plot much. Jaeger wasn’t supposed to be likable for most of the film considering how terrible of a father he was, but his presence felt like more of an annoyance than an emotional staple of the film. The plot attempts to redeem Jaeger by pointing out how similar he is to Searcher (They really aren’t that similar,) and then having Jaeger help save the day. But the real heart of the film is obviously Searcher’s relationship with Ethan, and the emotional center of the film is Searcher learning to trust Ethan. That story could have just as easily been told without Jaeger’s unnecessary interruptions. Overall it’s disappointing to have such an imaginative movie rely on such an overused base story.

The Marketing: And we’re back to this. This movie could have done so much better if Disney actually marketed it. Instead, Disney allowed ‘Strange World’ to fade into obscurity. So much so that even the LGBTQ+ community didn’t know we’d be getting our first confirmed gay character until a few members of the community happened upon the movie. And because so many people didn’t see it, reviews wound up lower than they should have been because homophobes decided to complain about the representation in the movie with no one to argue against them. It’s ridiculous that we still live in a time where movies get review bombed simply because there are characters that represent more than just straight, white people. ‘Strange World’ isn’t the best Disney movie ever, but it deserved much more than it got. And I absolutely find it suspicious that Disney didn’t market a movie with so much representation.

Jake Gyllenhaal: This is all personal preference, but I find Jake Gyllenhaal to be a bit hit or miss. His performances can be quite wooden, and I found that that was especially true of his voice acting abilities. Physical acting choices really can’t save you when you’re just acting with your voice, and I didn’t find Gyllenhaal’s voice acting to be all that engaging compared to the other actors. But once again, that’s all based on my personal preferences.

If you’ve gotten all the way here and you still haven’t watched ‘Strange World’, I highly recommend you go and watch it! It’s fun, likable, and visually stunning. It might not be the most memorable animated movie of last year, but it definitely deserves some praise. I’ll at least be thinking about how much I love Meridian well into 2023. I hope this movie does well enough on Disney+ that Disney doesn’t write off the LGBTQ+ representation and the amount of people of color that were present. ‘Strange World’ is such an important movie to support and it’s sad that Disney might overlook the importance of it because of the lack of support so far.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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