Strange World

Strange World
Strange World
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What is rare for Walt Disney Animation Studios is to go full sci-fi. The latter has always been rooted in fantasy and fairy tales, never looking into the future. However, Strange World continues this tradition in a lesser way through less popularized works of 2000s such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet – drawing on B-movie monsters and adventure serial aesthetics to make a film that’s all about changing the status quo for a new tomorrowland.

Strange World in many ways seems like a studio with one foot stepping into something new while keeping the other firmly placed in old traditions—a combination of what is fresh and familiar that feels satisfying. If nuts-and-bolts plot details—for example, Avalonia’s power-source, a plant named ‘Pando’, failing, which leads to an adventure where the kingdom must be saved and Clade family intergenerational wounds healed—seem similar to those observed in recent animated Disney feature (crops-gone-bad story of Moana or parent-child divisions seen in Encanto), its presentation is refreshingly vibrant. It is part traditional fantasy kingdom, part retro-futurist utopia, and partly recognisably real world.

That is not even mentioning the ‘strange world’ itself; an underground realm crawling with amazing beasts straight out of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth – faceless purple sauropods; swooping pterodactyl-like killers; glowing green Flubber-tardigrades; schools of soaring fish-like globules. Strange World has fantastic creature design, beautiful use of colouring and references everything from Avatar to Fantastic Voyage making it into a visual treat though please note though that Disney’s human character designs have become quite bulbous over ten years post-Tangled period which requires some updating soon enough even if one frame from the final reel strikes you as truly breathtaking both conceptually and artistically.

The story holds very few surprises – like how Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) gradually reacquaints with his exploratory father (Dennis Quaid) who had abandoned him and now fears that the same thing may happen with Ethan, his own son (Jaboukie Young-White). Nevertheless, it does remain steadfast to its principles. Strange World’s eco-crisis ethos is so thinly disguised that it hardly seems like a metaphor at all—its final reel being candid about the amount of commitment required for us to mend our future (but also optimistic about this) while this is where Disney has made its first-ever gay character in the form of Searcher’s son Ethan whose evident crush on Diazo, a teenage boy like him, has been lightly explored but not insignificantly.

These significant strides are enclosed into a fast-paced adventure movie packed with familiar Disney elements—slick set-pieces, sometime irritatingly self-aware gags and two great comedy sidekicks: three-legged dog called Legend (who lives up to his name), and cartwheeling bioluminescent blue blob that Ethan christens as ‘Splat’ (“You just kinda give me ‘Splat’ vibes,” he reasons). However, similar to Don Hall and Qui Nguyen’s previous film Raya And The Last Dragon there are no songs which might disappoint some people. Therefore, using sci-fi in order to question what kind of world we want to live in and what it will take to reach there suggests that Disney should do more movies of this sort; they suit them well enough.

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