Disney’s latest animated feature ‘Strange World’ takes inspiration from classic adventure movies and pulp magazines but fashions a story that unfortunately has little wow factor. This was apparent to me by what little marketing I saw of the film, a clear sign of a studio giving up on its own film. It is not that ‘Strange World’ is completely irredeemable. It can be a diverting experience for kids. Though, in the Inox Kiddle theatre where I watched the film, the kids appeared to be more interested in the slides, going “Whee!” every now and then. I didn’t mind the obtrusion. I knew exactly where the film was going less than halfway through it.
The Clades are a family of explorers, and exploring is what they shall do until the Day of Judgment. Or at least that is the outlook of the patriarch Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) believes. He ventures out into the mountains with his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) around the land of Avalonia. On such a trip, Searcher discovers a plant that exudes energy. Satisfied, he wishes to return, but Jaeger wants to go ahead and find out what is beyond the mountains. Furious with what he perceives as a lack of courage and ambition, he continues, while the rest of the expedition comes back to their lands.
A quarter of a century later, Avalonia is overflowing with prosperity due to the said energy-giving plant, dubbed Pando. Searcher is now a farmer who grows Pando and lives a quiet life away from the city. He is also a married man and his kid, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), is more like his grandpa than he would have liked. His farm is visited by Avalonia president Callisto Mal (Luci Liu), who informs him that a sort of corruption is destroying Pando crops. An expedition beneath the earth will have to be taken to find out the cause. In the bowels of the planet, the
‘Strange World’ is a beautiful-looking film. The colours are used judiciously and carefully. Beneath the planet, the Avalonians discover a whole new world, something we have seen in numerous films and novels (Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’). However, the treatment of the world underneath is quite inventive, and goes beyond the look of the surroundings.
There are creatures with no discernible sense organs but still appear to emit sound and be aware of their surroundings. Some resemble giant octopi, only made out of jelly. Some are dragon-like but are deemed less dangerous due to their fuzzy, translucent bodies. Some are just blobs. All that gives an air of otherworldliness to the world beneath the ground.
However, as good as a visual experience ‘Strange World’ might be, it fails as a film. The script, not exactly ‘bad’ per se, is painfully predictable. There is a narrative turn at the end, something I suspect the writer Qui Nguyen and director Don Hall, thought to be a twist. But the only thing it will elicit is a drawn-out groan. That the film comes from the stables of Disney makes one mind inclined towards one kind of denouement. ‘Strange World’ ends exactly as you would expect.
Cinematic pleasure can be derived from ‘Strange World’ only if you comfort-watch animated movies, and want to see familiar tropes and .
Nguyen and Hall last collaborated on ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’, which was a thrilling, immersive experience that kept the viewer on their toes—not so much this one. If you have not seen that film, I’d suggest catching up with it instead.