Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Jaboukie Young-White, Lucy Liu
Critical Rating: ** ½ of *****
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: *** of *****
Don Hall and Qui Nguyen’s Strange World, the new animated film from Walt Disney Studios, is a pleasant, inoffensive entertainment for families. The movie’s major strength is its imaginative visuals, which sometimes make up for what is a not-always-engaging narrative.
Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is the mightiest explorer on Avalonia, a territory surrounded by mountains. At the film’s beginning, Jaeger and his exploration team – including his young son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) – attempt to journey beyond the mountains of Avalonia. Along the way, Searcher becomes convinced that a plant, known as Pando, is the key to the community’s future. Jaeger, however, stands firm in his belief that the future lies beyond the mountains, and as father and son reach a stalemate, Jaeger determines to go ahead alone, while Searcher and the rest of the team return home.
Twenty-five years later, Avalonia is thriving, thanks in large part to Searcher’s farming ingenuity with Pando, which has turned out to be a valuable resource. Jaeger, meanwhile, is presumed dead, and both father and son have been lionized with statues (though, as Searcher points out, his statue is slightly bigger than his father’s). Searcher has a son of his own now, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), who he fears will take after his grandfather and leave the family behind to explore lands beyond Avalonia.
But the utopian paradise of Avalonia begins to show signs of collapse when Pando crops start unexpectedly dying. The Avalonian leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) arrives on Searcher’s farm in an airship, and asks Searcher to lead an expedition to once again go beyond the mountains of Avalonia to find the source of the problem. Searcher reluctantly accepts, but forbids his son to join the mission – which, of course, Ethan ignores, managing to sneak aboard the ship.
As the team journeys down the roots of a Pando tree (of sorts), they crash-land the ship in what can only be described as the “strange world” of the title – a subterranean environment packed with fantastical (and deadly) creatures. Ultimately, there’s quite a bit of information to ingest in order to get to this point of the adventure, which is a reoccurring issue in many modern children’s films – much of the runtime that could be devoted to fun, visually-striking adventure is instead taken up by explaining of rules.
The main problem with Strange World is that the film is neither fun enough to qualify as a rousing adventure nor moving enough to resonate on an emotional level. There are certainly things children will appreciate – the little blue creature Splat provides plenty of laughs – but there’s not much here for anyone else. Ultimately, the film is neither terrible nor extraordinary.
Strange World is rated PG for its animated action sequences, none of which are particularly violent or objectionable. I’d recommend the film for ages five and above.