Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Strange World is an enjoyable animated adventure echoing the stories of Jules Verne, that mixed with that sense of Disney wonder and sense of family, makes for an entertaining watch for the entire family.
Disney Animation has its core themes of love and family that we see playout over all of their films, though the setting in which we see these stories occur differs. Though, when thinking of the settings, I cannot think of any previous Disney films that comes close to the wondrous world in which Strange World occurs in.
Set in the land of Avalonia, we meet Searcher and his father Jaegar, who is an infamous explorer, but while on adventure together, Jaegar separates from Searcher and is never heard from again. Twenty-five years later, Searcher is enlisted for a dire mission to save Avalonia, which leads him and his family to a strange world beneath Avalonia full of new and exotic creatures. However, their family's differences threaten their ability to work together, putting the future of Avalonia at stake. The story feels like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth with the exotic world that the adventurers explore, with this one feeling like a more 21st century world with its high-tech technology.
While the story follows the familiar Disney themes of love and family, the surroundings and story itself is unlike anything I have seen in a Disney animation film before. Much like Treasure Planet and Big Hero 6 before it, this is uncharted territory for Disney Animation and is no doubt going to capture the minds and imaginations of viewers of all ages. By the time the story got to the third act and the big reveal of the film occurred, I was absolutely amazed by the direction the story took as it is a truly unique plot that I have not seen in any other animated film. Pacing wise, the film does take a while to find the heart of the story, leaving audiences a little aimless in the first act as it spends a lot of time developing the world and story while leaving the characters on the back burner. But this is quickly fixed in the second and third acts, where the focus of the narrative shifts to the relationships between the characters, creating something that all audiences can relate to. At the centre of the story is the relationships between fathers and sons, with each generation not wanting to turn out like the older, despite having the exact same characteristics. It’s a theme that the audience can easily relate to, while also allowing for emotionally complex characters to be crafted by the writers.
The animation is good, bringing to life this truly unique world and capturing the audience’s imagination. 3D technology amplifies the amazement of the visuals on screen, even if the animation is not nearly as stunning as the animation we have seen recently from Pixar or Disney Animation films like Toy Story 4, Lightyear and Frozen 2.
As many Disney films do, Strange World boasts an impressive voice cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union and Lucy Liu. Gyllenhaal is great in the lead role of Searcher, bringing true compassion to the character and crafting a more emotionally intelligent and less bravado driven male lead which is a nice contrast to the leading male characters we are used to seeing in animation. Quaid is good as Yaeger, capturing that restless and adventurous spirit, while Union is a delight as Searcher’s wife Meridian, even if she is underused. The same can be said of Liu, who is truly badass as Callisto, though again her character has little to do until she is forced into a stereotypical role that is required by the animated genre.
Aside from the unique story and world of the film, the standout aspect of the film for me was Henry Jackman’s musical score. With every melody, Jackman brings to life the grand adventure that is unfolding on screen with majestic themes that evoke a sense of exploration and danger, while also creating some truly intimate moments while the relationships play out between the male characters of the film.
There is no question, Strange World is not the best animated film of the year or an outstanding entry into the Disney library like so many films we have seen recently from the studio, but is an enjoyable entry that will easily pass an hour and forty two minutes and keep the entire family entertained. While the animation is not as stunning as other films we have recently seen from Disney, a strong voice cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal and a world unlike any other you have seen in an animated film before, makes Strange World well worth the trip to the cinema.