Strange World Review: Disney's Journey To The Center Of The Daddy Issues Is A Blast

The pulpy sci-fi adventure is original and fun.

The Clade family in Strange World
(Image: © Walt Disney Animation)

As Disney fans will recall, after the studio’s 1980s/1990s renaissance that brought us beloved animated musicals like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, they got really weird with it in the early 2000s. We got Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet and Meet The Robinsons – a bunch of random adventure movies that many of us grew up watching and unabashedly feel nostalgia for today. Walt Disney Animation’s 61st feature film is a reminder of this era of the studio’s filmmaking, and it’s a blast of a return to the sci-fi sphere. 

Strange World follows Jake Gyllenhaal’s awkward farmer Searcher Clade, who has gone in a different direction with his life than his long lost famous explorer father, Dennis Quaid’s Jaeger Clade. In the movie’s world of Avalonia, Searcher has made a name for himself as a prominent farmer that harvests a special crop that is vital to survival. However, when Searcher learns that his crop is dying off, he must aid his father’s former fellow explorers on a mission to save Avalonia. His loving family, Gabrielle Union’s Meridian and Jaboukie Young-White’s Ethan, tag along for an adventure that’s all about the meaning of family across multiple generations. 

It can be cliché at times, and its inspiration from Journey of the Center of the Earth is unmistakable, but Disney once again knows how to put their own stamp on a treasured tale with oozes of charm.

While Strange World can be predictable, the multi-generational storyline is affecting. 

The studio continues a recent trend of telling family stories over happily ever afters in Strange World, with a storyline that isn’t particularly new, but a new spin on a timeless premise. At its core, the movie explores Searcher’s daddy issues, who tried too hard to make his son just like him when he was growing up. In turn, Searcher creates an enriching life for his family on Clade Farms in a completely different vocation, but he also begins to repeat his father’s own tendencies. With that, the movie impressively captures a common fear: will we become our parents, and even if we don’t, will our kids become us? 

The script’s take on this message can be heavy handed, and Strange World could have benefited from an additional plot line considering all the fun characters and creatures the movie features but doesn't use. For example, Lucy Liu voices Avalonia’s badass president, Callisto, but the movie drops the ball on furthering her arc beyond moving the rest of the story forward. At the same time, Strange World does maintain a tight story focused on the Clades that is both straightforward, layered and not seen enough these days in major studio genre films. 

Disney’s latest lives in a wonderfully weird and original world. 

The setting of Strange World is beautifully original and has a way of taking its viewers on a surprising ride, especially since Avalonia is a wholly new land to discover. As the Clades aim to save their home, they venture into the depths of their world where Disney animators clearly got the opportunity to let their imaginations runs wild with its most trippy and fresh creature designs in some time. Neon pink forests, acid green four-legged creatures and a shifty blue blob capture one’s heart by the end of the film. Disney makes use of its titular world throughout the journey as it acts as a character itself and enters the most bizarre corners of the studio’s imagination. 

It’s certainly a compliment to the movie that it leaves the viewer missing the world with the desire to spend more time within its confines once the end credits roll – perhaps just to hang out and meander. Strange World leaves an enticing mystery about Avalonia too that only adds more curiosity to the mix, and on top of everything else, Avalonia hits on a touching environmental message that simultaneously speaks to the vastness of our own world and how small and precious it is. 

Strange World marks a beautiful milestone for authentic inclusion in family animation. 

The heart of Strange World ultimately comes down to the Clade family, which follows a bit in the footsteps of the studio’s previous film, Encanto, in its familial themes. What does it take to break the cycle from one generation to the next and be healing and accepting rather than judgmental of one another? Disney effectively tells this story by including the first openly gay Disney leading character in one of their feature films with Ethan Clade. There’s no coming out scene, or moment of questioning his identity; it just is, and it’s beautifully accepted. Plus, Ethan doesn’t feel like a shoe-in diversity check mark, as there are a multitude of coming-of-age conflicts the character deals with in Strange World that feels universal and fit gracefully into Disney’s history. 

Strange World is part old school Jules Verne tale, part nostalgic Disney adventure and demonstrates the best of Disney Animation’s current strengths as a studio. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.