Let's face it. There's no film studio doing animation that can put together a rollicking, somewhat dangerous, absolutely exciting, adventure in tons of color, humor, and pathos like Disney. Such is their newest film, Strange World. It's not up there on the same level as the recent Encanto or the wildly popular Frozen films, but it still delivers a strong story about family, finding your vocation in life, and caring for the earth.
Avalonia, a town sheltered by huge mountains, idolizes Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid), an intrepid explorer whose determination to discover what's beyond the mountains never wavers, even in face of failure. Que the larger-than-life voice-over as his exploits are told in classic pulp magazine style. Jaeger drags his son, Searcher (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal), on his adventures, but Searcher doesn't have an explorer's heart. Instead, he finds a plant called Pando, which has electrical qualities, and returns home to Avalonia to cultivate it.
In the ensuing 25 years, Searcher becomes a successful farmer of Pando and the town thrives because of it. Together with his crop-dusting wife, Meridian (voiced by Gabrielle Union), and his teenaged son, Ethan (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), Searcher lives a fulfilling life on the farm.
Ethan, Meridian, and Searcher (voices of Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union and Jake Gyllenhaal) from "Strange World." © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Things are a little tense between Searcher and his son when Ethan's interest in farming begins to wane. It seems he takes after his grandfather, Jaeger, and wants to explore. When Callisto (voiced by Lucy Liu), leader of Avalonia, comes to Searcher with the news that the Pando is dying, they set off to discover why. Wanting to get in on the excitement Ethan stows away on their vessel. Meridian goes after them and pretty soon the gang's all there.
Going deeper and deeper into the earth, they literally "pop" into a strange, new world that is full of wonderfully strange creatures. The group also encounters Jaeger Clade, who never returned to Avalonia after separating from Searcher all those years ago. To say that the father/son reunion is uncomfortable doesn't quite cut it. Despite the time that has gone by, both Jaeger and Searcher still resent each other. As Ethan meets his grandpa, his realization that he also wants to be an explorer, further complicates the multi-generational drama.
Searcher and Jaeger (voice of Dennis Quaid) from "Strange World." © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
The voice talent in Strange World is superb. But it's the creativity of the strange world that takes the cake. With stag-like creatures whose heads are like fine feathers, and roads made up of moving fish-like things, to the evil humongous hermit-crab + tentacles set on devouring any people who traverse their world to Splat, the blob creature that befriends Ethan, the strange world is also beautiful.
Ethan and Splat from "Strange World." © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Parents need to be aware, and ready to talk to kids if necessary, that one of the main characters is gay. The film is not a coming-out story but presents Ethan as a boy who has a serious crush on another boy.
I'm glad the film portrayed a positive family dynamic, especially the nuclear family of Searcher, Meridian and Ethan. Their love for each other is obvious as well as their willingness to sacrifice for each other. Parents will also resonate with how hard it is when a child decides to break from the "family business" for other pursuits. The desire to have one's offspring follow in one's steps is strong but must be overcome if we want our sons and daughters to flourish as his/her own person.