The presence or absence of a parent can have a tremendous influence on a child’s trajectory. Children tend to see what their parents do and either emulate or rebel against them, and growing up without that example may similarly mold them if they, as adults, decide to have children of their own. Even and especially if a parent is not around, the legacy they have left behind can still be haunting. Strange World crafts a colorful rollercoaster adventure out of one man’s relationship with his father and the future he wants from his son.
Searcher grows up in Avalonia in the shadow of his father, Jaeger Clade. When the fearless explorer goes missing after the discovery of a new plant called Pando, Searcher returns home and, with no word of his father for twenty-five years, eventually marries Meridian, and has a son, Ethan. All is tranquil for the farmer and his family until Avalonia’s leader, Callisto Mal, shows up in an airship requesting Searcher’s help to find a new power source for the fading Pando. The voyage into a mysterious sinkhole involves many surprises, including Ethan as a stowaway and the return of Jaeger, who is still alive after all these years and has plenty to say about the choices his son has made for himself.
Strange World comes from Disney Animation, a studio renowned for producing magical films about the importance of family that are underlined by fantastical journeys. This film is no exception, following a relatively predictable course in which Searcher discovers his own role in all of this, and how he has been for his son the same forceful influence his father was for him, albeit for farming rather than exploring. Though its trajectory is expected, there is still joy to be found in watching it, another trip into animated creativity that complements its good-natured story with impressive visuals.
Behind the camera for Strange World is a Disney regular, Don Hall, whose past credits include Big Hero 6 and Raya and the Last Dragon, collaborating with his co-director and writer Qui Nguyen. Thematically, it’s best compared to Up in its literal transplanting of its characters to somewhere else and the combination of curiosity and resignation that defines their attitudes. This tale isn’t quite as resonant, though there are some warm moments to be found in which it’s hard not to find the characters and their newfound realizations about each other endearing.
As is often found in Disney movies, there are creatures who are unable to speak yet are still capable of feeling three-dimensional and real. While there are large blobs that roll through the “strange world” that the Clade family explores, there is also an adorable blue creature that Ethan nicknames Splat, who is able to move by tossing himself like a bean bag or a sticky hand. It’s fun to see how Ethan takes to Splat, whose purpose, as revealed by Jaeger, is supposed to be far more nefarious but has changed as a result of his instant connection with a compassionate, intrepid soul like Ethan.
The voice cast of Strange World contributes greatly to the experience. Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid are dependable as Searcher and Jaeger, respectively, and Jaboukie Young-White, a breakout talent from Dating and New York and C’mon C’mon, infuses Ethan with an inviting energy. In the supporting cast, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Karan Soni, Alan Tudyk, and others add to the enjoyability of the experience. This may not be an overwhelmingly fresh or groundbreaking animated Disney entry, but it’s still an entertaining trip that young audiences, and some older ones, will delight in taking.
Strange World is currently playing in theaters.