REVIEW: ‘Strange World’ is Disney’s weakest effort in recent memory

I’m not going to lie. When this film reached the halfway point and a character said he saw something cute that could be a merchandising opportunity, I considered walking out.

“Strange World” centers on a community surrounded by seemingly impassable mountains. That doesn’t deter fearless explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), though, who gets lost in the mountains trying to find a way out. His son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) never shared his father’s quest for exploration, and instead became a farmer of a valuable natural resource.

However, when that resource becomes threatened, he joins an expedition underneath the mountains to a strange subterranean area with his own son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). As it turns out, it’s where Jaeger has been the whole time.

“Strange World” was a movie that on paper had what it needed to work. Co-director Don Hall, for example, has helmed a pair of exceptional hits in “Moana” and “Big Hero 6.” Disney Animation’s war chest was available to use, and it showed in the film’s visuals. Plus, the voice talent was solid.

The problem is “Strange World” is completely lacking in passion, heart, energy and originality. Despite featuring characters going on a daring adventure, much of the movie feels lifeless and bland.

The film’s story, for example, takes the most pedestrian route. There are no curveballs or surprises, with every plot point being telegraphed. Sure, there are moments of peril along the way that gets a rise out of a viewer, but it’s more thanks to the animation, rather than actually being worried about the characters’ journey.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the movie uses its visuals basically as a crutch, because there’s so much going on in this strange world, from weird creatures that are always moving to a vibrant colored landscape. It’s like the filmmakers had to throw as much eye candy on the screen to cover up the fact that there’s no substance.

This is especially true with the situation revolving around the family dynamic. The movie’s main character conflict revolves around a child wanting to take a different route in life than their father, resulting in strained relationships.

Courtesy Walt Disney Animation.

Generational issues between parents and their children is common in cinema, even in recent Disney movies, and can create effective drama.  It gave “Encanto” some intrigue and added a lot of emotion to “Turning Red.”

Yet in this case, it lacks nuance and feels completely artificial. Moments where father and son characters are at odds or are having a heartwarming moment lack any emotional weight, as it comes off as manufactured.

Much of this goes back to how the characters themselves were written. They all behave, and are animated to look, like caricatures. Jaeger is a typical big adventurer who loves danger while Searcher is a reluctant, meek person. Those characters and the rest of the cast are defined by these traits and have no personality beyond that.

Also not helping matters is the fact that the environmental social commentary is so obvious and the film beats an audience over the head with its message repeatedly. It’s fine to advocate for environmental protection and sustainable resource usage, but this movie just delivers its theme with zero subtlety. It’s basically on the level of “Captain Planet.”

There are bad movies out there, but at least some take a big swing for the fences. “Strange World” is a movie that doesn’t even step up to the plate.

It’s not the worst movie this year, or one of the worst animated movies I’ve seen, but it is just so incredibly dull. There is absolutely nothing to recommend about this movie because it’s creatively empty. 1.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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