The new year has barely begun, but even with that being the case, Walt Disney Studios has already announced its first new home release for 2023. The company announced late last month it will release its latest CG feature, Strange World Feb. 14 on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie is the first full CG feature (and first full theatrical CG feature) from the company’s animations branch since the release of Encanto in November 2021. The company partnered with Bardel Entertainment in December 2021 for the CG adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so technically, while it is a CG movie (which was released exclusively through Disney’s streaming service, Disney+), it is not a solo release from Disney. That movie has yet to see a home release date, too. Strange World does little if anything to improve the track record for Disney’s animation unit, considering the fact that Encanto was so forgettable. Strange World suffers largely because of its story, which will be discussed a little later. The story’s pacing is the movie’s main saving grace. It will be discussed shortly. The movie’s bonus content is also of note to the positive. It will be discussed later, too. When it and the pacing are considered together, they make Strange World worth watching once, but sadly no more than that one time.
Walt Disney Studios Animation’s latest new CG offering Strange World is a disappointing new presentation from the animation arm of Walt Disney Studios. Much like its most recent predecessor, Encanto, it offers audiences little to make it memorable, other than maybe the fact that it is not a musical. One of the only other positives to this movie is the pacing of its story. From beginning to end of its roughly 90-minute run time, the story wastes little time getting things moving. That is proven right from the movie’s outset, which is a brief back story on the Cade family (the movie’s central stars). In that introduction, it is revealed that the elder member of the Clade family, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid – Innerspace, The Day After Tomorrow, Frquency) essentially abandoned his family while on a mission in the mountains of the family’s homeland, Avalonia. Of course, there is more to that story that is revealed as the story progresses. Not to give away too much, but it is ironic (or maybe not) that Quaid has also worked on Innerspace and The Day After Tomorrow considering the content in this movie’s story, not to give away too much. Getting back on track, that initial opening setup is very brief, but makes sense as soon as the story fast forwards more than 20 years in the future. The story that follows is set up very quickly and in clear fashion. From there, the adventure into the “subterranean” world of Avalonia moves steadily right up to its final act and resolution. Even the moments in which Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal – Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Nightcrawler) and Jaeger have to come to terms with their relationship do not manage to slow the movie down too much. That is a good thing, too, considering how that secondary story of the father and son’s relationship (and Searcher’s own relationship with his son, Cade (Jabouki Young-White – Rough Night, Set It Up, C’mon C’mon)) plays into the bigger story. That secondary story actually weaves seamlessly into the overall story, allowing for the story to not get bogged down in itself and in turn keep moving fluidly from beginning to end.
As much as the pacing of Strange World’s story does for its appeal, the overall story presented herein detracts greatly from that appeal. That is because in hindsight, the story is really anything but original. Not to give away too much for those who have yet to watch it, but this movie proves ultimately to be little more than a reimagining of 20th Century Fox’s timeless 1977 science fiction classic, Fantastic Voyage. That is recognized when Ethan Clade (Young-White) finally realizes the reality of where the family really is in its journey. Keeping that in mind, the movie’s writing team is to be commended at least to a point, in keeping that realization a surprise not only for the Clade family but also for audiences in the process. Again though, the realization almost immediately lends itself to comparison to Fantastic Voyage and in turn reduces that engagement and entertainment.
This is just one of the problematic aspects of the story. The preachy message about finding a renewable source of energy through the setup of pando’s problematic nature is clearly an allegory of how we as humans must find an alternative to fossil fuels. Yes, we need to get off of fossil fuels, and those efforts to find something else are already there. To that end, audiences do not need this message continually shoved down their throats. The purpose of movies is supposed to be an escape everything, not to have preachy messages and agendas pushed.
As if all of this is not problem enough, — again not to give away too much – the ultimate final revelation at the story’s end makes a direct reference to the idiot theory by so many that Earth is flat. Of course, a flat earth is not shown, but a round one, yet to even suggest we are living on something else that is living – an actual living organism – is laughable and leaves one wondering why this was even incorporated into the movie, unless some nutjob flat earther was part of the writing team.
This still is not the end of the issues posed by the story. The whole matter of the father and son dynamic between Jaeger, Searcher, and Ethan (Ethan is gay, by the way, and that is shamelessly right out in front of audience, so some parents might want to be aware of this) thankfully does not overwhelm the bigger story of the family’s journey through Avalonia’s “subterranean” world. At the same time though, it doesn’t really add much, if anything, to the story. The whole thing of each son trying to make his own path and identity despite his father’s own history is preachy in its own right, and nothing new to the movie industry, too. Thankfully though, this subplot thankfully does not manage to overpower the overall story even as it doesn’t help the story, either.
Looking back at all of this, there are lots of problems with the story at the center of Strange World. From its overall lack of originality to its preachy nature, it is just anything but memorable. It is at least engaging for the one watch. To that end, the multiple problems featured in this movie’s story are not enough to completely doom Strange World, and leave room for one more positive, that being the movie’s bonus content.
The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its home release is at least somewhat enjoyable, even despite some preachiness from Young-White in the “Strange Science” bonus feature. He goes off about the need to care more for the planet, etc. in the end of the 13-minute bonus, which features the movie’s creative heads talking about the story and the work that went into its creation. The very brief creature feature at least offers some entertainment as it gives names to each of the creatures encountered throughout the Cades’ journey. The 23-minute “Anatomy of a Scene” featurette is for lack of better wording, the standard “making of” featurette that comes with so many movies, regardless of studio. Audiences learn how much time and work went into the CG that made the movie, with so much detail given from one subtopic to another. It and the other bonuses are collectively all that really makes the overall viewing experience here worthwhile, that is other than the pacing of the story. To that end, the pacing of Strange World’s story and the bonus content featured with the movie’s home release are its saving graces. Without them, this movie would not be worth watching even once.
Strange World, the latest CG feature from Walt Disney Studios Animation, is sadly another disappointing offering from the animation arm of Walt Disney Studios. Its story is anything but original, though at least the execution thereof makes for some appeal. The story’s pacing works to help with that execution, thankfully. The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its coming home release is also of note, though not very much. Keeping all of this in mind, Strange World proves ultimately to be another forgettable offering from Walt Disney Studios Animation.
Strange World is available now digitally. It is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 14.
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