Walt Disney Studios’ latest animation, Strange World, is set in the land of Avalonia. A picturesque landscape surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks. The legendary Clades set out on an adventure to discover what lies beyond the mountains with hope that what they will find can help save their civilisation.
While lead by father, the strong and powerful Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), and his son, a young scientific researcher, Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal), alongside fellow scientist, as they edge closer to the dangerous peaks, Searcher stumbles across a strange, glowing, plant that may hold the answers Avalonia needs. Fighting over what is best for their civilisation, the pair part ways and Searcher returns home with the new discovery.
Cut to 25 years later and Searcher now has a family of his own and a successful farming business that the entirety of Avalonia relies on. With his wife, Meridian Clade (Gabrielle Union), and son, Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) by his side, life in Avalonia has been fulfilling. However, after an unexpected visit by the Avalonian Leader, Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu), hey discover their entire way of life is under threat and must embark on a mission to save their homeland.
Before long, the new team of explorers find themselves in a bright and colourful strange new world with a myriad for flora and fauna they have never seen before. Their mission has been clear from the start, however, after the discovery of this new world, all is not what it seems.
Whilst I kept myself away from most of the theatrical trailers of this film, I was still excited to see how this film would hold together. Even the font type and overall design of the movie poster gave off the vibe of a classic 70s adventure film. As the film started to kick in, I was even getting notes of Brendan Fraser’s 2008 classic, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and even the educational animation, The Magic School Bus. It is evidently clear that Qui Nguyen was inspired by each of these pieces of work as he wrote Strange World.
Strange World is visually stunning. Not only is the homeland of Avalonia set in a beautifully lush landscape but the underworld they discover is bright and vibrant with a fluorescent palette. The landscapes and creatures are nothing like we have ever seen before. Think of the most beautiful and strange creatures that children might create in pre-school, slap some fluro colours on and 3D animate them. Every creature and landscape is unique and beautiful in their own right. Collectively, the Strange World beneath is absolutely stunning.
Visuals aside, this is an action-adventure film that is filled with edge of your seat sequences as the expedition team battle to survive. These sequences would be incomplete without the exciting score to back them up. This task is executed flawlessly at the hands of composer, Henry Jackman. I found myself bobbing along to the music as the scenes hit their climatic point and it reminded me a lot of the incredible scores behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones. This was a complete surprise for an animated film, but one that I am extremely thankful for.
The one thing that took me pleasantly by surprised was the inclusiveness of the characters and how diverse they are. Searcher Clade is a nerdy science type that is the complete polar opposite of the brute adventure type that his father is. Searcher is also married to a person of colour and their son, whilst clearly mixed, is more the same as his mother. Not only is the son, Ethan a POC, but he also gay and is struggling to navigate the feelings he has for a classmate. There is even their pet pooch who only has three legs. It is clear Disney is putting more of an effort into the design and personalities of their characters to align them more with the society we live in. Representation is extremely important, and I hope that many can identify with the characters Strange World have created.
A successful animated film is incomplete without incredible voice acting to back them up. Each of these performances are fantastic. There are many animations that I have seen over the years where all I could picture was the actor and not the character. Thankfully, the cast of Strange World never once hade me feeling like it was the actor just reading lines. Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, and the rest of the cast all embraced the characters, making them believable and relatable.
Disney’s Strange World is fun and enjoyable. However, it is not really suited for children due to the deep emotional and complex storyline. Even judging by the lack of attentiveness from the children at the screening, it is clear this film is better suited for a more mature audience. One that can wrap their heads around a complex father-son relationship dynamic. With one of the main characters being a 16-year-old boy, perhaps the target age group is mid teen and above? Strange World is definitely not for the same age group that Frozen is targeted at.
Overall, I was impressed with everything Strange World had to offer; the deep emotional relationships of the characters, the bright and beautiful colour palette, and the exciting and punchy score to accompany the thrilling action sequences. The surprise at the end was also well worth the wait.
Strange World hits cinemas this Thursday, November 24th. Check your local guides for session times.