‘Strange World’ lacks charm
February 9, 2023
“Strange World” is beautifully animated, but its premise is too underdeveloped and its screenplay too flimsy to back up the gorgeous world the animators create. Director Don Hall, known for “Big Hero 6” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” returns for another Disney adventure that lacks the charm and excitement of its predecessors. There are genuinely compelling moments in the film, and the inclusion of an unquestionably LGBTQ character in a Disney film is a significant milestone. However, the film focuses too heavily on visuals, neglecting the countless unfinished storylines and underdeveloped characters.
The film follows Searcher Clade, voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, an explorer who discovers a renewable energy source and uses it to power his town. He quits exploring and becomes a farmer, raising his son to take over his farm once he retires. However, when the energy that the town runs on starts failing, Searcher, his family, and a ragtag team of scientists must venture into the Earth to find and fix the problem. The storyline, which should be exciting and suspenseful as they encounter a world full of new creatures in challenges, is made dull by the complete lack of conflict in this new world. Sure, there are weird-looking animals and dark places, but none of them ever pose any real threat to the characters. Every conflict is resolved within minutes, without any real character development occurring. This is not necessarily bad, some viewers may enjoy the lack of conflict as it makes for a more relaxing experience, however the ending product is less of a film and more of a collection of wholesome, feel-good shorts. Without conflict, the characters do not grow. Without growth, it does not feel like a story. At the ending, it is hard to feel any more attached to the characters than you did in the opening scene, because they are exactly the same as they were at the start.
Most of the buzz around the film has been generated by the character of Searcher’s son Ethan, voiced by Jaboukie Young-White. Ethan, who is in high school, is explicitly stated to have romantic feelings for Diazo, another boy his age. This simple fact has generated a large controversy around the film, with the film’s Google rating at 1.5 stars due to hundreds of outraged audience reviews. The content of the film is about as inoffensive as it gets, a teen crush between two boys who enjoy playing card games together, but for all the fury this storyline has caused, its significance in the film is underwhelming. It is certainly the strongest example of LGBTQ representation in a Disney film. However, the subplot itself feels out of place. Although the adults in the film mention Diazo from time to time, he hardly ever appears on screen. He does not even come on the adventure into the titular strange world, so his role is relegated to that of an awkward offscreen presence that feels more shoehorned in than anything. It is representation, but it is not yet representation that is given the same weight or screen time as heterosexual relationships.
“Strange World” is not a bad film. It is wholesome, colorful, and not going to leave a bad taste in any viewer’s mouth. However, when compared to films like “Big Hero 6” which captivated audiences with nuanced characters and exciting battle scenes, “Strange World” stands out as a below-average entry into Disney’s filmography. Its opening weekend earned just 12 million of the film’s 180 million budget at the box office, and profit fell by 60% for its second weekend in theaters. Some of this can be attributed to the controversy surrounding the inclusion of a gay character, but that only accounts for part of the story. “Strange World” comes across like they accidentally made a film out of the rough draft of the screenplay, and when competing with nuanced animated features such as Pixar’s “Turning Red,” stunning animation is not enough to redeem a lackluster storyline and a one-dimensional cast of characters. The most likely scenario is that “Strange World” will come and go without the general public taking much notice. It is unfortunate, though, that a film with such a diverse cast of characters and such groundbreaking representation was not given the script and development that could have brought it success.