It’s certainly “strange” that Strange World’s marketing seems to be incredibly minimal; after all, it features a gay main character, which Disney would normally be trumpeting from the treetops. This lack of marketing concerned many. Was the studio really trying to bury this movie due to its subject matter? Unfortunately, the probable reason Disney seems to be dooming this film to box office obscurity is this: it really isn’t that great.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some solid elements to Strange World. For one, the visual and auditory side of this film is top-notch. The world design is gorgeous, with certain shots (especially towards the end of the movie) that give a sense of scale that has seemingly never been achieved in a Disney animated film. The opening sequence is also a cute tribute to the adventure stories of Disney’s past, but this style exists in the introduction and the final scenes, a decision that ultimately hurts the visual diversity of the film. The variety of creatures that our protagonists run into are inspired, and our main character, Ethan (played by Jaboukie Young-White) adopts one of them as a sidekick; its antics steal the show. The voice acting is also flawless. Young-White plays an incredibly convincing teenager wanting to forge his own path, and Ethan’s emotional moments arguing with his father Searcher (voiced by the always-charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal) provide relatable tugs at the heartstrings for both parents and children alike. Henry Jackman’s soundtrack also emulates the riveting orchestral queues of exploration that became the staple of adventure films, his take a more modern one.
However, for all of the technical aspects hitting their marks, the story fails to meet the expectations of a classic Disney animated tale. There are certainly interesting themes presented: environmental protectionism, the tragedy of the commons, continuing your family’s legacy or forging your own path. Unfortunately, they all seem to resolve with a whimper, the ending somewhat abrupt and unsurprising. The lack of a singular villain throughout the film also hurts the plot in significant ways. Following the Clade family throughout this undiscovered world is lots of fun, but the “major threat” isn’t all that threatening. There is an interesting twist involving this threat in the climax, but it’s much too late to maintain the tension the filmmakers want the audience to feel for the Clade family. Additionally, without a spooky villain, Strange World relies on humour to entertain viewers. This means that when jokes fall flat, they REALLY fall flat, and unfortunately not everything hits here.
Strange World is a solid animated flick, a movie that provides entertainment for an hour and 45 minutes, but will likely not garner much conversation beyond a simple “That was cute!”. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, and not much else. It provides a long-awaited step forward for LGBTQ+ representation, but unfortunately, this representation deserves better than a cookie-cutter animated romp.