Strange World (Animation, Adventure) (2022)
Director: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
Writer: Qui Nguyen
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union
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In a land called Avalonia, a famous father and son adventuring duo manage an expedition in the mountains. Their trek leads them to find a plant seemingly pulsating with energy. The decision to abandon further exploration in favour of transporting the plant back to Avalonia is, to the father’s dismay, as he hikes forwards, never to be heard from again.
After the successes of ‘’Encanto’’, and ‘’Raya the Last Dragon’’ this project seems to take more of an old-school Disney animation approach. ‘’Strange World’’ was headed by Disney veteran Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, responsible for writing on ‘’Raya and the Last Dragon’’ alongside others. As their latest release, it’s an otherworldly adventure in a fantasy realm with steampunk and sci-fi elements. It’s been produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Animation Studios, being distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Exploring the wilderness of Avalonia, the distinguished adventuring duo of Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) and Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) discover a glowing plant on the mountain ridges surrounding the world as they know it. Searcher convinces the expedition party to harvest these crops, which bothers Jaeger, who decides to continue alone, never to be heard from again. Years later, Searcher peacefully lives on a farm with his wife and son, heralded as a great innovator. The Pando crop has led Avalonia to an age of prosperity, that is, until the airship of the president lands on Searcher’s doorstep, warning him the Pando crops are dying of an unknown virus, and they urge Searcher to join their expedition to solve this pressing issue.
Inhabiting his farm, living a peaceful existence despite his well-known status as the acquirer of the Pando plant providing all of Avalonia with electricity. Gyllenhaal’s Searcher learns that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and realises his ground-breaking might have unwanted consequences. Family bonds and ecological themes take precedence in what appears to be a straightforward Disney adventure comparable to Netflix’s ‘’The Sea Beast’’ earlier this year.
As far as Animation films come, ‘’Strange World’’ stands firmly in Disney’s catalogue. Although, it’s challenging to provide an honestly spoiled audience with a film as brilliant as past projects, especially those brought into the cinemas by subsidiary Pixar Animation Studios. That begs the question, is there room for something like this, a more uncomplicated tale inspired by traditional adventures uncovering a larger mystery — Thankfully, the answer is a strong yes. Within its own little pocket, alongside ‘’The Sea Beast’’ or even classics like ‘’Treasure Planet’’ and ‘’Finding Nemo’’.
While the ecological lesson within could be important for younger audiences, the family and their adventures are more prominent, and it takes time to unveil the whole picture. Bonds between Searcher, Ethan and Jaeger are steadily but nicely developed, providing a generational journey.
I’d applaud the art direction, instantly connecting with Disney’s classic aesthetic. It’s charming yet brave to see the creators seemingly regress to a more traditional style, both in narrative and visuals, even without princesses. Easy to grasp and rapid in story progression, it’s a perfectly functional fantasy with a critical, mostly unexpected twist.
Strange but worldly entertaining.