The weird world of Disney’s Wild World dreams big, with one exception

While Disney musicals have traditionally been a huge hit with audience success, so has the animation studio else The movies — buddy comedies, action adventures, sci-fi epics — are bigger risks with varying returns. Zootopia And the Wreck-It Ralph They were likable, sure, but there’s also a whole string of early 2000s missteps that only became commonplace years after they were released.

strange world is Disney’s latest big gamble: a bizarre take on pulp magazines and old sci-fi. It is directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, who have previously worked together Raya and the last dragon, this new Disney movie is a fantastic genre fest that gets bogged down by clichéd family dramas. There are two stories clashing here: a fantastic sci-fi epic, and a family story that mostly boils down to “This dream isn’t it my kingDad – it is for you. ”

[Ed. note: This review contains some slight setup spoilers for Strange World.]

Image: Disney

strange world It takes place in the fictional land of Avalonia, which is surrounded on all sides by towering, impenetrable mountains. Twenty-five years ago, intrepid explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) led an expedition team to try to conquer those mountains, but the expedition was halted when his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovered a strange energy-producing plant.

Jaeger stubbornly continued on, while Searcher and the rest of the team returned to Avalonia and eventually converted the plant, known as a pando, into a power source. In the present, Pando’s last crops have failed, so Searcher must embark on a quest to find out what is affecting them, though he would prefer to stay on his farm. He is accompanied by his teenage son Ethan (Jabuki Young-White), who secretly dreams of being an explorer. A researcher, Ethan, and a team of explorers end up in a strange world (ha) under the mountains, and soon find Jaeger again. Tensions flare between the disparate father-son pair, as they all try to preserve their land’s primary power source.

In a scene from Strange World, a great view, where everything is orange, pink, and red;  Two silhouetted figures stare at a point vista, which is filled with cliff-like structures and strange dinosaur-like creatures.

Image: Disney

Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning. strange world is a testament to the raison d’être of some films should Be animated – There’s no way that this wonderful alien world, with its warm colors and constantly moving, organic shapes, would look even remotely good in live-action. And it’s not just the strange world under the mountains. Avalonia itself is a kind of solar/steampunk fun world, where people have coffee makers and personal airships, but not cell phones or video games. Their technology is familiar enough to ground the movie, but still unique enough to be engaging. However, the heart of the movie comes from the actual alien world, and every bit of it is a treat.

The main problem is that the emotional thread between the Clade family seems to be turning into an adventure story. If the movie were scaled down and focused on the quest to save the pando and explore this funny new world, it would be a solid sci-fi movie with an environmental message at its core. Clade’s family struggle is a stumbling block that men who have bad relations with their fathers, fight to avoid going down similar paths, and in doing so become the very things they sought to avoid.

In a scene from Strange World on the deck of a zeppelin ship, a big, burly man, a smaller man, a teenager, and an amorphous blue blob are playing a card game

Image: Disney

This could be an interesting dynamic to explore in a different movie, however strange world It has a slicker story with higher and more immediate stakes, and a limited runtime to allow it to run its course. Admittedly, there are some touching scenes between each father-son pair. One of the best involves Ethan getting his father and grandfather into his favorite card game, a type of strategy game inspired by the settlers of Catan that parallels closely their current expedition. With more nuance and reinvention, these relationships could be something new, but the “sad because dad left to explore” trope is already overused in sci-fi movies like InterstellarAnd the Ad AstraAnd the disaster. and in strange worldHowever, the story resolves itself in the most obvious way possible.

The Exploration Arc is much less predictable, and has one of the coolest twists in a Disney movie – heck, one of the coolest twists in science fiction. When the emotional heart of the film focuses on this group of explorers desperately trying to save the world they know, it’s a big, exciting adventure, with breathtaking landscapes and fantastical creatures at every turn. When the film focuses on its broadest scope it shines, but when it retreats into exaggerated relationships it loses what makes it shine. It seems like those father-son dynamics were supposed to anchor the movie in some reality, but all they do is drag strange world down when it can go up.

strange world It will hit theaters on November 23.

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