Strange World (2022)

Strange World
Director: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
Writer: Qui Nguyen
Cast: Jaboukie Young-White, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Karan Soni, Alan Tudyk, Adelina Anthony, Abraham Benrubi, Jonathan Melo, Nik Dodani, Francesca Reale
Seen on: 4.1.2023

Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) is a direct descendant of famed explorer Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), his grandfather who went missing long before Ethan was born. Ethan’s parents Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Meridian (Gabrielle Union) are farmers since Searcher hated the explorer life. They are farming a plant that they found on the last tour with Jaeger – a plant that produces electricity and brought their world great advances and prosperity. But there is something wrong with the plant now. President Callisto (Lucy Liu), who used to go exploring with Jaeger, Searcher and the rest of their family, more or less forces Searcher to go on a tour with her to find out what it is. And Ethan, who has been dreaming of exploring his entire life, invites himself along. What they find is much bigger than they expected though.

Strange World is a fun, creative animation film that takes familiar elements but shapes them into something that feels absolutely fresh, also thanks to the diversity of its cast and characters. I really enjoyed it.

The film poster showing the Clade family and Callisto, as well as a blue blob-like figure looking at a pink world with a flying swarm of animals that could be fish.

It is pretty amazing how little attention Strange World was given by its own marketing. It went almost directly to streaming, and even while it was in cinemas, you barely heard anything about it. I don’t think I saw a single trailer for it in any case. One can only speculate why the film would be released so much under the radar – it’s not like Disney doesn’t have the money or means for marketing – but I can’t help thinking that it might have to do with the fact that the protagonist is Black and queer (both things are handled very matter-of-factly in the film and they are never much of a point), and spoken by a Black, gay actor.

Be that as it may, I am pretty sure that the marketing fail is not due to the quality of the film. Apart from the still pretty groundbreaking diversity of the cast, it was the visual style in particular that really stood out for me. The pink color scheme of the world they travel to is unlike anything I have seen before, and that makes it really feel like you’re exploring alongside Ethan and the others.

Ethan (Jabouki Young-White) and Meridian (Gabrielle Union) flying the airship with Callisto (Lucy Liu), Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) standing behind them.

The rest of the film isn’t quite as innovative and draws on many tried and tested tropes and conventions. But as I say so often, they became tropes and conventions because they work, and Strange World takes care not to become too formulaic with them – there is always enough heart in it to make it feel fresh and fun, instead of tired and boring. The cast is doing their part to make that happen.

There is environmental symbology in the story, but mostly it’s a film about daddy issues. Since I personally think that daddy issues stories are far too prevalent, it should tell you a lot that I didn’t mind it at all here. Probably because the film just feels genuine, honestly trying to make a point, to work through the issues it examines. And earnestness is definitely something that is not too prevalent – we could all use a little more of it.

Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) and Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) looking out at the strange world they found.

Summarizing: really good.

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