Strange World (2022)
Directed by Don Hall
Directed by Don Hall (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), “Strange World” is a Jules Verne-inspired adventure movie that should excite fans of turn-of-the-century Disney movies like “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet.” Set in a secluded pastoral community walled in by mountains that can’t be traversed, “Strange World” begins with a news reel praising the accomplishments of Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), a larger-than-life explorer whose lifelong goal was to see what was on the other side of that mountain range. During one adventure with his crew (including Callisto, voiced by Lucy Liu) and his teenage son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger chooses his mission over his family. He decides to push forward, while Searcher returns home with the rest of the crew. Twenty-five years later, Jaeger hasn’t returned and is presumed dead. Searcher is a farmer whose unique crop provides electricity to the once-primitive community. But the power is going out of the plants, and an expedition is set up to find the root of the problem. Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) tag along, as does Callisto, and together they stumble upon a strange subterranean world they never knew existed. And who do they find there but—surprise!—a 60-year-old Jaeger who got stuck twenty-five years ago and has been there ever since. Naturally, Searcher has mixed feelings about reuniting with the father who abandoned him all those years ago. But they’ll have to work together to get their family back home.
Disney has finally come around to ideas that a majority of Americans respect, like the fact that LGBTQ people exist. There have been a few movies with minor queer characters in past Disney movies—many of whom either didn’t have speaking parts, or who never addressed their same-sex relationship—but none have felt as well-rounded or out-and-proud as Ethan, who openly flirts with his crush and discusses the boy with his supportive parents. As if that wasn’t enough, “Strange World” is also perhaps Disney’s most explicit call for climate change action. By the end, you’ll hear a message that it’s not too late to save the world—but it will take sacrifices. Good for Disney for telling audiences that something needs to be done and soon.
“Strange World” has the top-of-the-line animation we’ve come to expect from Disney. Sure, it’s always nice to see the incredible work of animators outside of the Mouse House—like those who make movies like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “The Wolfwalkers,” or any of the countless beautiful anime films—but it’s easy to take for granted just how consistent Disney’s animators are. Add in the great voice cast and an exciting score by Henry Jackman, and “Strange World” is another solid outing from Disney. It tells an thrilling story with an important message, all while using some 1950s sci-fi B-movie scene transitions to give the movie a unique look. It might not become one of Disney’s memorable classics, but it’s better than it could have been.