Strange World movie review: A by-the-numbers Disney adventure

Strange World movie cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu
Strange World movie directors: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
Strange World movie star rating: 2 stars

It’s not just one strange world that we are introduced to, in this new Walt Disney adventure. The legendary explorer Clade family traverses one world after another, each stranger than the other: starting from one where icy mountains grow green plants, to another called Avalon where everything is powered by said green plants, to the next where strange, blob like creatures float in the air alongside shocking pink birds which feel predatory, to one where the blue ocean is encircled by a giant Cyclopean eye.

I’m sure there are more, but for now I will stop because this film is not just an around-many-worlds-in-two-hours. It toplines family values, the burden of expectations, father-and-son relations, strong women, and gay young men, out and proud. There have been other Disney films which have experimented with gay characters, but ‘Strange World’ is the first in which it is main character who drives the narrative. Ethan Clade (Young-White) is a teenager, totally smitten with a class-mate, and has no clue how to tell him, like any other young person of his age. This is the good stuff in the film.

But not much else is. Strange thing to say for a film which gives us worlds exploding with flora and fauna we’ve never seen before, and spectacular scenery. But how many orange bird-like creatures and squeaky green blobs can you be awestruck by? Very soon, too soon, actually, all these things, which Disney must have spent millions and months on, recede into the background.

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It’s only when the humans and their conflicts, big and small, come to the forefront, that the film comes to life. Old man Jaeger Clade (Quaid) is an intrepid explorer, and refuses to halt his quest, for a place beyond the mountains, even when his son Searcher (Gyllehaal) turns back, miracle plant in hand. It’s only when Avalon is in danger that Searcher, along with son Ethan, wife Meridian (Union), an adorable three-legged mutt, and the sharp-eyed Callisto (Liu), sets out in search of the magic elixir which will save their fertile land.

Promptly, old Jaeger, whom no one has seen for twenty five years, and who is still as irascible as ever, shows up. And off they all go. Space-ships zigging and zagging, smart rescue operations, and finally, daddy issues being resolved. It’s all very Disney. What stays with you is the young Ethan, and his sparkly, bashful romance. As one character says to another: ‘what, there are no bad guys? That’s poor story-telling’.

The story-telling in Strange World is not exactly poor. It’s just a by-the-numbers tread, which pops only once in a while.

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