"Strange World" is an animated film that's about legacy and if there's an animation studio out there that sure has a legacy, it's Walt Disney Animation Studios. The studio has had sixty-one animated films under its belt since 1937 and this is its most recent film to hit theaters. It's also one that has a legacy that I'm gonna be curious about in the future. After having so many knockout hits year after year, this is a film that I don't think is as good as the films that came before it in the last decade. However, this is still a fun animated film that I did enjoy quite a bit and I think has some good fun despite its shortcomings.
In the land of Avalonia, a farmer named Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the son of famed explorer Jaeger (Dennis Quade) who went missing during a mission to go over the mountains. Since his father's disappearance, he's started his own family with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) and has tried desperately not to have his son follow the wrong path that his father took. One day though, the president of Alvonia, Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) shows up at the farm to tell Searcher that a plant he discovered that powers their world is starting to go extinct and asks him to join her and her crew on an expedition. Reluctantly, Searcher comes along with his Meridian, Ethan, and their dog Legend accidentally coming along inside Avalonia to discover an uncharted world filled with tons of bizarre creatures and stumble upon Jaeger as well. From there, the crew goes forth into the strange world to figure out how to save the dying plant and the world above.
As I stated above, I'm honestly curious to see how people are going to react to this film and how this will be remembered in the future. It's a film that I did enjoy and I do think there is some great stuff within it though even I will admit that it does have shortcomings that hold it back. The film was directed by Don Hall who's an excellent director at Walt Disney Animation Studios having directed "Winnie the Pooh" from 2011, "Big Hero 6", and last year's "Raya and the Last Dragon" which were all films that I loved though I do think that the latter film might have had something to do with how this turned out. For those that don't know, Hall was brought on to direct and finish "Raya and the Last Dragon" mid-production in 2020 and I do think he probably had a hard time juggling two animated films at once. It could explain why the story of this film isn't as exceptional as it could've been. The story of this film is very simple and by the numbers that doesn't break a whole lot of new ground. It's a plot we've seen many times before and they don't really do much new here though I can't like when I say that it is a bit of fun. I did enjoy the exhilarating fun action the film has as the Clades come across these strange creatures that live in the unexplored world and while its twist and the way it's wrapped up is maybe one you can see coming, it does make sense in hindsight. However, I do think that this is a screenplay that could've been polished a lot better since parts of it really drag this film down. For one, some of the comedy in this film really does not land and it came across as kind of awkward though the big area where the film falls apart is how it handles its themes. The film is constantly hammering in the theme of letting children do what they want to do and not tie them down to what they want to be and it's most presented with having Searcher and Jaeger argue all the time.
They go on and on arguing about ridiculous nonsense on who's better and it was just aggravating. There's so much arguing you can take in a film before you want to shout at the characters to stop arguing. But again despite the nonsensical arguing, I can't lie when I say that I did have fun with the adventure of the story since, despite its familiar nature, it has its moments. I also like that Hall's touches that make this film really like a 50s serial from the black and white newsreel opening to the circle wipe transitions. There were neat little touches. This leads me into talking about the animation which is easily the highlight of the film. It's clear Hall really wanted to make the film's world extraordinary and he sure achieved it. This is a really vibrant and beautiful film. The world does have that pulpy vibe that was in the sci-fi stories from the past and such bizarrely designed characters that were really fun to watch. It's also a film where the colors seriously pop. The world is filled with tons of greens, pinks, oranges, and whites that give the film a look that Ethan himself describes as "trippy". It's really a lovely film and it's a world I would want to explore quite a bit. Speaking of the characters, I did like them. My personal favorites were the young Ethan who is trying to figure out who he wants to become from following his path as an explorer and even navigating a crush with a cute boy he likes. It was nice to see the representation of a mixed family and an LGBT character handled here. I also like the non-verbal characters including the Clade's three-legged dog Searcher and my favorite character of the film, a blue goo-like character named Splat which was like if Abu and the Magic Carpet from "Aladdin" had their personalities both combined. I did find both Searcher and Jaeger fun though they were mostly carried by some funny performances by Gyllenhal and Quaid and they both had their moments despite the constant squabbling between the two. I do think that both Meridian and Callisto could've been expanded on a bit more since I didn't know much about them apart from Meridian being a pilot and Callisto being one of Jaeger's explorers.
In all, "Strange World" is a flawed but fun adventure. While the story suffers from being somewhat familiar and having a lot of agrumental conversations, it has some fun adventure, gorgeous animation, and likable characters that I do recommend checking it out. It's not as strange as it wants to be from Disney Animation, but it's good enough as a fun popcorn adventure.