Strange World (2022)
Strange World (2022)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: November 23rd, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Jaboukie Young-White, Lucy Liu

 


 

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he land of Avalonia is surrounded by impassable mountains, keeping the small society of inhabitants secluded – though sustained. But renowned adventurer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) and his bouncing baby boy (who soon becomes a clumsy teen) Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) embark on a mission to overcome the insurmountable peaks. As these top mountaineers, joined by a team of three others, strive to get to the other side of the snowy caps, it’s revealed that Searcher is actually something of a bumbling fool, whose “inquisitive spirit” isn’t a great fit for the physical perils of icy treks through unknown terrain – much to the chagrin of Jaeger, who eventually decides to complete the journey alone. “We’re explorers, not gardeners!”

25 years later, Avalonia is transformed by a discovery made by Searcher during that fateful quest with his father before parting for good: a mysterious plant called pando that provides a source of electricity (and subsequent, advanced technologies). What was once a primitive village is now a hi-tech megacity, bustling with hovering vehicles and massive aircrafts. Searcher, now a farmer, has a family of his own: wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). But when the pando crops appear to be afflicted by a disease, Searcher is called back into action to travel into a subterraneous chasm in a bid to save Avalonia’s invaluable power source.

“I remember my first crush.” Just after the setup is complete, this latest Disney animated feature is notable for embracing what is surely a series of firsts: a lead male character with a male love interest; a lead character in an interracial marriage; and even a three-legged dog, who receives more screentime than most of the other human roles. But in its efforts to be inclusive, “Strange World” tends to forget to be authentic; a later moment in which a grandfather gives pointers to his grandson on how to flirt with another boy may be laudably idealistic, but it also feels terribly disingenuous – particularly since that persona epitomizes a stubborn, older man stuck in his ways (ways that are classically macho and masculine, to the point that he’s ashamed of his own son’s unmanly predilection for farming; even their physicalities are indicative of traditional stereotypes). Of course, maybe these characters aren’t actually human; but if that were the case, their common human emotions, as well as the themes of father/son bonding, living up to expectations/following along in a parent’s footsteps, cooperating in harmony with their environment, building a legacy, and being true to oneself wouldn’t need to perfectly emulate the tropes of family films.

“We are clearly in uncharted territory.” More problematic than the abundance of questions about this sci-fi ecosystem (especially with the ultimate reveal, which would have Avalonia devolve into utter chaos, as suggested by the microcosms of the bridge crew’s opposition and Jaeger’s insistence on seeing the truth with his own eyes) is the dialogue. Despite the unique presentation of social equalities, the scripting couldn’t be more bland; none of the characters are original, engaging, or even likable. Many go so far as to be insufferably irritating, mainly in the expected manners of obstinance and disobedience. Their aggravating behaviors can only exist thanks to the astonishingly low-stakes adventure, in which there are no sincere predicaments that aren’t immediately solved in just a couple of following sequences; every obstacle is overcome without any hint of genuine peril. Some of the dialogue issues are intentional, as the conversations frequently spell out exactly what the characters are thinking; or, worse, explain precisely what was just shown, so as to avoid having the audience interpret anything for themselves. And one of the main points is that not every scenario has to have a villain – which steers the conflict into the realm of triviality.

Plus, for a picture that has limitless possibilities built into its premise, “Strange World” is exasperatingly dull. Visual designs are the strong suit, borrowing the vibe of ‘50s and ‘60s fantasy adventures like “Fantastic Voyage” (this one a touch too much), “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “The Angry Red Planet,” and “Mysterious Island,” while boasting cutting-edge animated simulations of gelatinous, blobby, gooey, bubbly, wispy, glowing, pulsing creations. Yet interesting alien denizens aren’t enough to counteract the routine one-liners and pitiful dearth of humor. Even the editing seems to take away from the visual polish, cutting away from activities prematurely, deadening the attempts at physical and verbal comedy. There may be important – and obvious – messages in this film, but the execution is simply dreadful.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10