Strange World – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Directors – Don Hall, Qui Nguyen

While trying to find what’s attacking the roots of the plant that gives his town power, farmer Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds his long-lost explorer father (Dennis Quaid) in a world below their own.

There are a number of places and people that are expecting Disney’s latest, Strange World, to be something of a box office disappointment. If it is there’s suggestion that it may be down to what feels like a strong lack of marketing. Watching the film it’s easy to see how a company such as Disney may not know how to promote a film such as this. However, there’s the feeling with Strange World that it may very well end up with a growing cult-like audience over the years in the same way that Treasure Planet and The Black Cauldron did. As if every ten years they release a film that while it might not set anything alight when first released goes on to inspire over the years after.

Rightfully so in the case of Strange World which overflows with creativity in the fantastic visuals and animation. You see what may be concept art appear over the credits and have to admit that the animation does a brilliant job of bringing such images to life and adding further detail to the colourful creatures and realm that we see. It’s a world below that of the central characters who have travelled underground to the unifying root of the pando plant, which has given the small town of Avalonia power for 25 years, to discover what is attacking it and taking away its power.

We primarily follow farmer Searcher (an intensely likable Jake Gyllenhaal), who joins the ‘rescue’ team, with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and stowaway son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Ethan wants to escape his farming life to become an explorer, like his long-lost grandfather who not only had some excellent facial hair, but also lived and breathed a life of adventure. While Searcher tries to lead him away from this he finds it more difficult when discovering his father (Dennis Quaid) alive and well, still passionate for exploration and finding a way to the other side of the endless mountains which surround his hometown. The conflictions between the three, particularly Searcher and father Jaegar, produce plenty of laughs along the way, particularly when they stop to play a card game while drifting through the most fantastical of landscapes.

You may be able to tell where some of the family dynamic elements are going to go, alongside other narrative developments in the closing stages, but there’s no denying the levels of engagement that the film produces. Not just in terms of the creativity that’s on display in the craft of the world and the creatures that we see. From the “it’s so cute, I wanna merchandise it” blue blob monster Splat, and little, wobbly, squeaky, orange blobs which create an odd giggly joy whenever they appear on screen, to bright pink, screeching pterodactyl-like predators there’s plenty to get caught up in and enjoy here. Luckily, it’s not the only front and centre element here as the world is used to progress the narrative as much as the characters are. The landscapes and life in the area actually feel used instead of just there for the characters to walk around and explore, allowing it to feel more involved and fleshed out.

Yet, the film remembers to focus on its characters and the way that they interact with each other – not just the three generations of men, but the other figures leading the mission, particularly Lucy Liu’s President Mal. It’s clear the point that the film is trying to push across in the final stages as it starts to wrap things up – it may feel surprisingly early but that’s simply down to how quickly the film has gone by – but at least as a whole it doesn’t feel overly laboured, instead quite cleverly and in some aspects unexpectedly worked into the plot.

There’s a lot to like about Strange World as it works the titular discovery into the narrative as much as it progresses its characters. With as much easily effective humour along the way as there is engaging visuals as part of the fantastic elements there’s a very enjoyable film here. Something different that it feels Disney haven’t quite done for a little bit of time, and maybe the kind of film that will go on to inspire another generation as it finds an audience over the years.

Led by a very likable cast there’s plenty of humour throughout Strange World, creating engaging characters who work well with the creatively detailed title world which much of the fast-flowing film takes place in. A real delight from start to finish.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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