‘Strange World’ Review – A Mundane Narrative Nurtured By Invigorating Visuals
Visually wondrous but spectacularly dull, Strange World has the entertainment value of a wet yet adventurous sponge.
What happens when an animated film puts all of its energy into its beautiful visuals, adds in the barest of story threads as an afterthought, and gives little attention to anything else?
You get Disney’s latest CGI-animated film, Strange World.
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Helmed by Raya and the Last Dragon collaborators Don Hall and Qui Nguyen (the former of whom also counts a co-directing credit for Moana and full directing credits for Winnie the Pooh (2011)), Strange World centers on Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quad), a thrill-seeking explorer who is ever hungry to make the next big discovery.
However, while the mystery of what lies ahead and the call to explore is what ignites passion within Jaeger’s brawny, mustachioed bosom, the same cannot be said for his less adventurous son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhal).
Rather than setting out for new horizons, Searcher is much more content with doing what he can to better their homeland of Avalonia.
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Regardless, Searcher is not completely averse to accompanying his father on his expeditions, and one day finds himself tagging along with Jaeger as the latter sets out to conquer the other side of a supposedly unclimbable mountain.
While in the wild, Searcher stumbles upon a strange green plant emitting an electric pulse, which he believes may end up being a major find in terms of Avalonia’s future.
Unfortunately, after a heated argument erupts between the two, the father and son split ways, with Jaeger choosing to continue on tackling the dangers of the mountain while Searcher returns home with his new discovery in tow.
Fast forward 25 years and the plant, now called Pando, has become the primary source of energy for Avalonia.
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Now working on a farm responsible for distributing Pando’s byproducts to the public, Searcher begins to notice that the plant is beginning to lose its potency.
In light of his defacto role as Avalonia’s Pando expert, Searcher is pulled back into the world of adventure by President Calliso Mal (Lucy Liu), who tasks him with finding a way to save their homeland from collapse.
As noted above, as far as visuals go, Strange World does not disappoint. In the best ways possible, the characters’ designs are not unlike those of the casts of Big Hero 6 or Raya and the Last Dragon, while the super expressive and prolonged facial expressions are similar to those you’d find in one of The Croods films.
Further, little details are animated incredibly intricately. Of particular note is the film’s depiction of hair, which flows and waves in genuinely realistic ways that were only CGI pipe dreams just a few short years ago.
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However, where Strange World really shines is in its incredible depiction of its titular location, an alien terrain whose overflowing pink hue begets the bubble-gum characteristics of the surrounding flora.
Dancing among these horizons are a these bizarre yet majestic creatures whose aversion to physics or realism makes them some of the most fun elements to witness.
The downside to them is that, given their jellyfish-like existence, none of them seem to have any faces, appendages past the wrist or ankle, or really any personally distinctive features whatsoever.
But don’t let this lack of individuality fool you. With their bright color palette and peculiar appearance, these funky critters are the highlight of the film.
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In terms of plot, Searcher’s quest to both save Avalonia from totally shutting down and address the daddy issues he’s been ignoring for a quarter-century is nothing you haven’t seen before.
The problem is there’s very little humor to cushion the bland storytelling and the few attempts at lightening the mood that are made result in crickets.
There’s also the issue with the film’s supposedly ‘groundbreaking reveal’, which feels less impactful than it probably should have been as though it implies a very final fate for the cast, the end result is anything but.
In an attempt to avoid spoilers as much as possible, I’ll just say that thanks to this lack of consequences, the entire main expedition of the film – even despite reuniting the Clade family – ends up feeling worthless.
Visually wondrous but spectacularly dull, unbelievably unfunny, and lackluster from the inside out in every other aspect, Strange World is a superficially stimulating with the entertainment value of a wet yet adventurous sponge.
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