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'Strange World' review: Lucious animation makes hip sci-fi Disney adventure worth the trip

Courtesy of Disney


Reminiscent of the classic original Disney adventures “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet,” the Mouse House’s latest, an homage to 1950s science fiction called “Strange World”, is a fitting lesson on the ethos of climate change and humanity’s ability to protect their homestead. Another beautifully crafted though narratively challenged addition from Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Strange World” looks stunning with an emphasis on the minor ticks and organisms that make up the titular planet. A creepy crawly wonderland that deepens and expands the longer you study it (picture a “Land of the Lost” bred with the best additions of a Jules Verne novel). It also might be groundbreaking in terms of Disney LGTBQ representation. This isn’t “Star Wars” or “Lightyear” representation either, there’s a primary male character in “Strange World” who openly has a crush on another boy. Kudos, Disney. It took you long enough. 

Set in the future, “Strange World” focuses on the Clade family and their adventurous roots. Searcher Clade (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal), a second generation farmer who is leading the next crop of Clade’s after his father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) abandoned him, along with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), mine and cultivate a vital energy source called Pando, which is responsible for keeping their home world of Avalonia thriving. 

But with news Pando might deplete itself, leaving Avalonia helpless, the president of the country (Lucy Liu) pleads with Searcher to help figure out the cancer that’s eating away at their energy supply. Ethan, Meridian, and their three-legged pupper, Legend tag along with Searcher for the journey into the earth’s crust where a vast place with bizarre species, including slimy crustaceans, and giant blobs that have man-eating tentacles, roam free. Here Searcher and the gang also stumble upon Jaeger who apparently has been kicking in there for 25 years.  

Directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen don’t shy away from their inspirations, including “Warning from Space,” “War of the Worlds,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and even “Interstellar.” They keep most of the action loose with the help of a cute, lovable blue cell sidekick named Splat. In what “Strange World” lacks in developing parallel father/son relationships (Ethan is just as stubborn in his independence as Searcher was with Jaeger), makes up for in the sturdy anomaly-like dissection of a world that’s actually living and breathing. I’m bummed there wasn’t more exploration or understanding of the dozens of creatures who existed within the boundaries of the ‘strange world,’ but the tidy, eco-friendly message and rich visuals still make it someplace worth visiting. 

Grade: B 

STRANGE WORLD is now playing in theaters. 


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