Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest feature film is a sci fi adventure titled Strange World. The movie features a family of explorers who travel to a mysterious land to find out why their primary energy source is dwindling. Due to an odd lack of advertising on Disney’s end, Strange World flew under the radar while it was in theaters, but it’s gained quite a bit of traction since it’s been streaming on Disney+. Let’s look into whether it’s worth checking out or if folks were right to avoid it at the theater.
Slight spoilers for Strange World are below.
Strange World positively excels when it comes to worldbuilding. The land of Avalonia feels extremely lifelike, as the audience gets to discover its unique vehicles, societal structure, and source of electricity. The “strange world” the characters travel to is also fascinating and filled with creative wildlife and environments. There’s even a Catan-Magic the Gathering hybrid tabletop game the characters play that helps ground the film in some reality. That game seems in-depth and fun enough that Disney could probably sell it in real life.
The visuals seen throughout the movie are nothing short of imaginative and beautiful. The vibrant colors and creative designs of the creatures and environments completely transport audiences to this world and create an incredible sense of whimsy. Just about every shot of the film perfectly captures impressive artistry.
The story is extremely touching and heartfelt. Despite the movie being fantastical, the emotional moments between the characters are still so grounded that the audience can relate to what they’re going through. Because of this, it’s easy for moviegoers to genuinely care for the main cast and what happens to them.
Strange World is also filled with brilliant sci-fi ideas. Some of which are ones that may seem familiar from other stories, but others feel truly unique. For a movie aimed at younger audiences and with a relatively simple plot, there are moments that are surprisingly thought-provoking. These elements and ideas are absolutely welcome.
These interesting ideas culminate in a fantastic twist that feels like an actual surprise. This twist also makes sense based on what’s seen throughout the movie and doesn’t feel too random or too much like a “gotcha.” It’s a truly satisfying moment that will make jaws drop.
Throughout the movie, there are a few themes that are all welcome. The most obvious is that of environmentalism. The story shows that we should take care of the world around us and learn to live alongside it rather than destroy it, abuse it, or take it for granted. Another theme focuses on generational trauma, which presents the audience with the idea that parents should be more open-minded with how they interact with their kids rather than forcing what they don’t want onto them and repeating the mistakes their own parents made. Perhaps the most subtle message in the film focuses on opening one’s mind to new information upon receiving new evidence. This is seen when a couple of the protagonists discover the shocking truth about their world and decide to change their goals and way of thinking because of it. Each of these messages are extremely important ones for different reasons. It’s rather impressive to see a movie capture all three well without ever feeling like too much.
There’s important representation seen throughout the movie as well. It’s handled organically and is definitely nice to see. Representation matters, and it’s welcome to see a movie that features it without shoving it in the background or just having it in a single, deletable scene.
At times, Strange World suffers from using tired tropes that we’ve seen time and time again, especially in Disney animated movies. There are cute animal sidekicks, the opening features the protagonist losing their parent (not for long, surprisingly), parents embarrass their kid who is nervous around their crush, a character who is locked in a closet proves they could have gotten out at any time but doesn’t for laughs, and the list can go on. This amount of clichés being used causes some scenes to feel a tad too predictable.
Some of the conflict between the human characters is a little on the predictable side as well. It’s quite obvious that the bickering family members will make up, Ethan will become less nervous around his crush, and the day will be saved. This drama is nothing new, but at least it’s well-executed.
The opening of the movie shows that Searcher’s father, Jaeger, walks away and is never found for twenty five years. Then, when Searcher and the other explorers travel to the subterranean world, he finds Jaeger almost immediately even though the world is massive. It feels a little too convenient for that to happen. Obviously, it needs to happen so that future events in the story can occur, but they could have had a montage of Searcher lost beforehand to make it feel less of an extremely unlikely coincidence.
Strange World is held back by clichés, plot contrivances, and predictability, but it still manages to be an incredibly fun and heartfelt ride. It’s imaginative and brings audiences into a truly whimsical world. It uses creative science fiction ideas and offers important messages for the viewer. It’s not necessarily the greatest flick Disney has ever put out, but it’s still a must-see.