Strange World Is Clearly An Artistic Labor Of Love
Strange World wears its influences on its sleeve, and it informs a ton of the movie’s pacing, sense of adventure, and how it approaches danger in any scene. It’s based on old-school pulp comics, novels, and radio plays—even as someone who didn’t grow up with that being commonplace, it’s obvious. I even read the pages that flipped by in the first few minutes, and they really went all out with emulating that style and energy.
And, if you’re a fan of that style, you’ll have a blast from that part alone. But that’s not all Strange World brings to the table. In modern Disney cartoon fashion, it balances emotional storytelling, stunning visual moments, and even slips in a pertinent allegory. But we can get to that later—first off, I want to talk about how Strange World has some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen in such a small package. I can’t tell if it counts as sci-fi or fantasy, but it’s incredible.
This Kind Of Movie Proves The Magic Of Animation
If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know this movie delights in its imaginative and alien-looking creature designs, but how they all interact requires the full film to appreciate. Before the plot even bothers to explain matters, you get a sense of the ecosystem. There are symbiotic relationships between different animals, between the animals and their environment, and tons of the creatures are rendered with such interesting anatomical details. A species of small flying maybe-bugs were my favorite, utilizing inflatable sacs for flight. Sure, some make little sense for this world and are more to show off a creative design, but it’s impressive throughout.
And this cleanly links into talking about the animation; my jaw dropped during the scene with the gaseous whales. The animators went all out. The elasticity of its various creatures helps pull off fluid and organic movement, while the vibrant and varied color palette makes every scene pop. This variety was also absolutely necessary for it to work as a movie. Like many adventure stories, most of the danger in Strange World is an animal attack or navigating a rougher environment. I don’t necessarily consider this a knock against it, but there are multiple “flying carefully through a dangerous location” scenes, and it’s a miracle they work so well when they occur so close together.
Strange World Leverages Visuals To Inform Pacing
But what’s a story without characters? And, thankfully, we get a lot of fun ones. This article is already rather long, so I can’t get as deep into the whole cast, but it’s nice to see that Disney bucked the “dead mom” trope here and instead let her be an active, badass participant in the story. It also gives another outside perspective to the three generations of explorers at the core of this narrative. They not only take up most of the runtime but also tackle the dominant themes of generational differences and parent-child conflict. Between this and Turning Red, Disney seems on a kick, and the two side-by-side work well as a double-feature exploration of how parents can pass down traits and pain to their children—and how the cycle might be broken.
And it only makes sense to go down the chain to talk about them. Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid), the grandfather, is the most immediate draw from the trailers. And he is a blast to watch, encompassing the usual tropes for adventure stories. But the real depth comes with how he subverts such tropes. Jaeger’s actions and opinions often serve the narrative commentary, highlighting how, realistically, someone obsessed with danger and fighting would be rather toxic to those around him. It also highlights multiple times how irresponsible it is to bring a kid sidekick into such a scenario.
The Writing Grapples Deeply With Its Own Premise
And this logical throughline informs Searcher Clade’s (the father) (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) character arc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character whose explicit goal is to not be like his father, but it makes so much sense given the above commentary, and having that past pain blended with a stereotypical goofy dad emphatically in love with his wife makes for a complete character almost at the jump. He also works as such an interesting counterpoint to Jaeger, showing how the drive to explore and the search for validation can neglect the (literal and figurative) cultivation and appreciation of what one already has.
And finally, we get to Ethan Clade (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), the son, who makes for the interesting middle ground of the two—but also the next logical step in a clear three-part allegory. His grandfather explored and conquered, his father cultivated what was found, and he is about healing and working in harmony with what is. I can’t say how well that holds up when mapped onto the real-world history of societal and civilization expansion, but it makes logical sense in this fictional world. And it also works well with his character overall and how he relates to his two father figures. His several coming-of-age moments are allowed to naturally happen, mostly only called attention to by the in-universe game he loves playing.
Strange World Has So Much Good Character Work
And that game works as a great segue to my next topic because it’s also the first aggressive hint at what Strange World is really about: climate change. This film uses mostly allegory to comment on the world’s current issues with greenhouse gases and detrimental environmental actions. Once you notice it, it’s impossible to ignore. And while I found The Tomorrow War’s efforts to do similar muddy in its exploration, Strange World knows what it wants to say and tells it with a strong focus. I’m not as well-educated on real-world climate change as some, but nothing jumped out as botching it here. I’ve got no complaints in that regard.
The few complaints I have in other regards feel like outliers, except one. The big one. Strange World has a death in it, and it’s treated weirdly. He’s pulled off-screen screaming and then is gone from the film. Like, never mentioned again, not even in passing. The character isn’t set up as particularly likable or anything, but it’s still jarring—and seemed a little pointless. He’s also the only human death that happens, so it’s not like it was there to establish that it could happen more. All it does is add weird tension for a little while until enough lucky saves, and improbable plot contrivances make it clear no one else is dying in this movie.
The Movie Never Manages To Build Much Tension
Besides that moment, though, every other complaint is a quibble. The easy solutions to deadly situations that is a lot of modern plot structure always bother me, but it’s pretty common, and I’ll not hold it against Strange World. Pacing being aggressively quick is also common in modern movies, and this one at least uses it to get to the cool visuals as quickly as possible. And, finally, like most Marvel movies nowadays, the characters sometimes treat dangerous situations a little too casually (without it being part of their character), or the comedy undercuts a moment when it probably didn’t need to be deflated. The bit with the dog and the door (and then the man running into the door) was funny in a vacuum, but it seemed like it was there for any kids that needed the tension broken. Again, not really holding it against Strange World specifically. It’s just how movies currently flow.
So, in short, Strange World is a solid little film with a few missteps, but a strong understanding of every aspect of what it wants to be, and delivers most of it with proven storytelling methods. The themes are strong and well communicated, emotional moments have a real impact, and its world and characters have more thought put into them than even some movies made for adults. Strange World could’ve rested on having gorgeously animated flora and fauna alone, but they also made the journey as interesting as the destinations.
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