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Review: Strange World (2022)

Strange World (2022)

Directed by: Don Hall and Qui Nguyen

Premise: An animated film. Set in a fantasy world where plants provide electricity, the son of a famous adventurer (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family journey to an unknown region to discover why the plants are dying.

What Works: Strange World lives up to its title. The movie is set in a fantasy world in which the people of a village are sustained by a special plant whose fruit generates electricity. When the crop, and therefore the village’s way of life, is imperiled the leader of the community is sent to find the source of the rot. The story takes the character on a journey into a hidden underground world. The design of Strange World is fantastic. This is a Walt Disney Animation Studios production but Strange World is reminiscent of Pixar’s more adventurous projects such as Soul and Inside Out. The creatures and environments that the characters encounter are not anthropomorphic which opens up all sorts of creative possibilities. Strange World is a family-based adventure in which a father and his wife and son get caught up in events bigger than themselves. Searcher (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a farmer whose father was a legendary explorer and that urge for adventure has resurfaced in Searcher’s son Ethan (voice of Jaboukie Young-White). The film deals with generational conflicts between fathers and sons and the movie uses parallelism effectively with each man unconsciously acting exactly like his father. The filmmakers tie those personality ticks and character talents into the larger story in a way that pulls everything together without being too neat. Strange World is also a lot of fun. It moves along briskly and its mix of a family story and imaginative world building makes this film a delightful family adventure.

What Doesn’t: As detailed and imaginative as Strange World can be, there are some flaws to its animation. The character’s faces are not as expressive as we’ve seen in other animated features including those that have an equivalent animation style. The articulation of the character’s mouths isn’t quite synchronous with the dialogue and the eyes are sometimes dead, giving these people the uncanny valley look often found in digital animation of the early 2000s. Strange World does a lot with its three central male characters but not nearly enough with the female characters. The women are given things to do but they don’t have meaningful character moments. They’re just background players. Strange World also tends to spell out its themes and character beats. At multiple times throughout the movie the characters stop to explain what ought to be obvious to the viewer. That’s obtuse and obnoxious storytelling.

Bottom Line: Strange World is a fun fantasy adventure. It suffers from a tendency to overexplain the obvious but the movie succeeds as a family friendly adventure tale. 

Episode: #929 (December 4, 2022)