Review by Cole Groth
Disney’s been in a rut recently. Fans are increasingly tired of the MCU’s chaotic story, and their animated films aren’t as consistently praised as they were half a decade ago. After the disastrous Lightyear bombed at the box office, they’re looking to revitalize their fan base with Don Hall and Qui Nguyen’s Strange World. Unfortunately, Strange World is the worst animated film from Disney since Cars 3, and it’s not even close. A satisfactory musical score and a fun premise aren’t enough to save this from being a sanitized, poorly-paced, unbearable kids’ movie with terrible dialogue and flawed characters.
Strange World follows Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal), the son of a legendary macho explorer, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid). After getting separated in his early twenties, Searcher became a farmer and settled down. While taking care of his family, the Clades get swept up on a journey into the fantastical world of Avalonia. As the Clades and fellow crew members learn, this world is strange. Nothing is as it seems as Searcher and his son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), have to save civilization from an unknown entity. This summary might be enough to drag people to see the film, but its good fortunes go about that far. Legendary composer Henry Jackman can't even save the adventure sequences from being utterly dull with some great music.
Is it too much to ask for a kids’ movie to have a good script? Qui Nguyen clearly doesn’t care, because this one sucks. With some of the worst dialogue in recent memory and horrible character development, Nguyen fundamentally misunderstands how families work. The Clades are a bizarre mismatch of personalities; none interact like ordinary people. Every character, without fail, is incredibly annoying. The dialogue between each character is cringe-worthy and cliché. Searcher is a weak man whose escapades grow increasingly pathetic. Jaeger is the most interesting, but the script constantly undermines him for being too macho compared to everybody else. Ethan is obnoxious, and Disney uses him being gay purely for brownie points which seems entirely inauthentic. Meridian Clade (Gabrielle Union), Ethan’s mother, is a generic leading woman with little sense of agency. The other crew members that join the expedition have nothing going on and only serve as unfunny comedic relief or generic characters to progress the story along. The best entity in the film is a dialogue-free blob named Splat who provides some genuinely funny comedic relief and cute moments. Still, for some reason, Nguyen decided that there needed to be a dog, too, which seems to provide the same cuteness as Splat.
Somewhat surprisingly, the animation is bland, too. It’s very colorful, which might lead audiences to believe that the animation is unique, but it’s anything but. Everything looks so sanitized and uninspired. Instead of going for a unique style, Disney has opted to make a movie that looks identical to Lightyear, which was also one of the uglier Pixar movies. If this was released in 2015, it could be an impressive feat of animation, but in 2022, audiences expect something truly magical. It’s hard to look at Strange World and think that this is the future of animation because, at best, it’s okay. Children might be entertained, but Disney used to create movies that the whole family could enjoy. Anybody over ten will have seen something much better in their lifetimes, which is a testament to how lackluster this is as a whole. Beyond the exciting environments, the character design is ugly and unoriginal. Most characters don’t match their voices, and the movements are exaggerated and annoying when they move their mouths.
Strange World has received almost no marketing, and with the review embargo releasing only two days before the film releases to the public, one thing is clear: Disney knows it has a dud on its hands because this movie is an amalgamation of the worst characteristics of animation. It’s a corporate-generated, ugly, boring movie that should embarrass producer Roy Conli. With an estimated $120 million budget, this film is currently tracking to make less than $100 million during its run. Strange World will be an enormous bomb for Disney, and it deserves nothing less than to crash and burn. I usually advocate for films succeeding at the box office, but if Disney is willing to put so little effort into their movies, why should they be rewarded simply for their title? Do not even wait for this film to release on Disney+; it would be a more prudent use of your time to watch almost any other movie on the platform instead. Like the world that the Clades wanted to explore, society will forget about this movie within a few weeks of its release.
Strange World releases exclusively in theaters on November 23rd.