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Photo: ‘Strange World’
Following the release of ‘Turning Red’ and ‘Lightyear’, Disney has released its third animated film of 2022. ‘Strange World’ tells the heartwarming story of a family embarking on a dangerous world-saving trip to an unknown territory. It centers around Searcher Clade, voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, his son, Ethan Clade who is voiced by Jaboukie Young-White, and his wife Meridian Clade, who is voiced by Gabrielle Union. Having been called to service by his former expedition teammates, Searcher must reprise his former identity as one of the world’s most famous explorers. En route to his mission, Searcher discovers there are some uninvited attendees tagging along the life-threatening mission. Ethan, trying to connect with his family’s heritage of being revered explorers, first sneaks onto the ship. Meridian, having to follow her rogue son, catches up to the crew. In an unfortunate attack by some unknown creatures, the crew and Searcher’s family find themselves in a vibrant, curiously strange world.
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The setup for the film’s plot is strong, having established family dynamics quickly and the characters’ histories. It’s obvious what the character’s development arcs are going to be within the first opening minutes of the film. Surprisingly, for a Disney film (especially an animated one), the stakes are pretty high as well, with the threat of death being presented upon the shocking scene of some pink glowing pterodactyl-like monsters abducting the ship’s pilot from his driver’s seat and having us never see him again. It was refreshing to see that a Disney expedition film that took the characters on an adventure said to be life-risking was actually life-risking.
Full Commentary on ‘Strange World’ with Cast and Crew
A Big Step in Animated Diversity
Disney has made a great effort into promoting diversity and inclusivity in their animated films, especially with their other two 2022 releases. ‘Turning Red’ centered around a Chinese family with hints of LGBTQ+ characters and ‘Lightyear’ having shown a lesbian kiss on-screen, ‘Strange World’ took it a step forward with LGBTQ representation. Identifying as gay himself, the voice actor for Ethan, comedian Jaboukie Young-White, got to voice Disney’s first gay main character. It is stated pretty blatantly in film, with Ethan’s parents talking about his crush on Diazo (another male) many times throughout. Without his sexuality being brought to question either, this is a step in helping normalize LGBTQ relationships in children’s films appropriately and seamlessly. Admittedly, ‘Strange World’ does bring up the relationship a little more often than usual. It would be understandable as to why someone would think it is either performative or “too on the nose” since they mention Diazo a lot for a character that only had a good (maybe) two minutes of screen time. To those not used to seeing homosexual conversations in family films, it could seem really repetitive or “in their face” to be mentioning it so many times when it holds nothing for the plot itself. It was done the right way, but perhaps one too many times.
‘Strange World’ also portrayed many different types of ethnicities and races in their characters, which was refreshing not watching an entire film with the same white-American animated models. Searcher is presumed to be white, but his wife, Meridian, is a Black woman, making Ethan biracial. Searcher’s former expedition teammate was of Native American descent, and other members of the expedition team were mostly designed to be of different races. It is especially nice to see the effort put into creating different-looking character models. Not only to give minority races representation in animated films, but with how stunning and meticulous the animation was, it was clear the art team put a lot of care into their work on this film and that a lot of that care was utilized in creating all of these characters with different backgrounds. It is a great way to show the care that this film went in its obvious mission to be groundbreaking in its diversity.
All of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Roles and Performances in All his Movies
‘Strange World’ Mostly Hits the Mark for a Family Film About Individualism and Legacy
The biggest theme in the film is a clever but familiar crossover between following one’s own path and adhering to the family’s legacy. This is not a new or unheard-of premise for a film, but ‘Strange World’ does it with the characters spanning over three generations. It brings up the same topic of generational trauma like ‘Turning Red’. Searcher, having ditched his life as an explorer to become a farmer (after his father was presumed deceased) then smothering his son with a life of learning to become a farmer just like him while Ethan only dreams of being an explorer like his grandfather, it creates a lot of internal conflicts within the characters throughout their expedition to save the world.
While,‘Strange World’ does suffer from being too on the nose a lot of the time, the world that the film is set in makes up for that. The world of Avalonia, the fictional city and ecosystem that the characters live in, cannot be compared to anything else out there. The biggest motivator to see this film would definitely be the vast world-building that the ‘Strange World’ team had. If any award were to be given (or at least nominated) to ‘Strange World’, it ought to be for it’s absolutely beautiful and stunning art and animation.
‘Strange World’ is now available to watch in theaters.
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Dennis Quaid, Lucy Liu
Directors: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
Screenplay by: Qui Nguyen
By Nino Vongphachanh
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