by Hope Madden and George Wolf
So, one of the main characters here looks exactly like John Krasinski, but is voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal?
Strange World, indeed, but that’s just an amusing footnote in Disney’s latest animated feature, an enjoyable family adventure with a straightforward message and commitment to inclusion.
Jake is the voice of Searcher Clade, a contented farmer still dealing with the ghost of his famous father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid). Twenty-five years ago, Jaeger vanished during the family’s quest to discover what lies beyond the mountains of Avalonia. But while Jaeger was lost on the expedition, Searcher brought back a vital new resource for his homeland: the Pando plant.
Pando now provides the energy that drives almost everything in Avalonia, which is all fine until the crops show signs of a serious infection. Putting aside a vow not to follow his father’s adventuring path, Searcher, his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), their son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) and their three-legged dog join President Mal (Lucy Liu) on a mission to cure the Pando plant and preserve their comfortable way of life.
Writer Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon) joins his co-director Don Hall (Raya, Moana, Big Hero 6) to craft an ecological allegory seemingly inspired by the union of a role-playing board game and one of those cute posters you pass while waiting in the lines at Disney World.
The animation itself is stunning, whether snowy peaks, verdant village or trippy, drippy otherworld. Strange World lives up to its title, delivering a visual feast.
But there’s more on Nguyen’s mind than eye candy. His story offers a world where generations do not have to be defined by what they always believed was right, where masculinity has no concrete quality but is a term owned by the individual. More importantly, this Strange World is one where creature comfort is not more important than survival.
Often the film feels like it’s trying too hard to correct the stereotypes nourished by generations of children’s entertainment. But there’s a kindness and a sense of forgiveness throughout the movie that does make you yearn for a world like this one.