After a nearly two-year break following their 2016 hit ‘Moana‘, Disney Animation entered this very odd phase of movies where for the most part, it looked like they didn’t know what they were doing. They left most of the heavy lifting on Pixar when it came to animation these last four to five years and to this day I do not know what is going on but I know that it hasn’t stopped. At first, it was two theatrical sequels, something Disney Animation isn’t really known for. With the disastrous ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet‘, it wasn’t tough for ‘Frozen II’ to look better in comparison. After that, came the questionable ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ which came and went. Last year, they had the true miracle that was ‘Encanto‘, one of their biggest hits in years and now we’re back to whatever this is. You would think after a movie as complex and mature as ‘Encanto‘ that their follow-up would sit in the same realm. Unfortunately, ‘Strange World’ is the complete opposite of ‘Encanto‘ when it comes to it’s storytelling and script. Both are dazzling to look at, in fact ‘Strange World’ is one of Disney’s most vibrant movies to date but when it’s used for a story this dull and predictable and characters this annoying and cliche, it can’t help but lower the entire movie’s quality.
spoilers for ‘Strange World’ are featured in this review.
There has been quite a conversation online on why this movie is failing at the box-office, pulling the lowest numbers in the company history which has been going since 1937 in case you forgot. The truth is that it doesn’t boil down to a singular reason, there are lots of factors as to why this movie is the way that it is. The elephant in the room is that it actually does features Disney Animation’s first openly gay lead in the form of Ethan Claide, an awkward teen yearning for life outside of his family’s farm. He has a crush on a boy named Diazo and for the first time ever, I can actually say that the queer rep here isn’t bad at all. It’s quite adorable and natural. There is a scene where Ethan even comes out nonchalantly to his grandfather and you can imagine where that could lead, only it doesn’t! The scene just continues normally, he tries to show him some flirting skills and it took me by surprise that they didn’t make a big deal out of it. Ethan is just gay, it isn’t a sub-plot, he never comes out because he is already out, he is just there and that’s great. Well, it would’ve been fantastic had Disney actually promoted this movie. I have not seen a single piece of merchandise for this movie. There isn’t even a line of Funko Pops for it which is insane because the last few releases have all had that. I work in a movie theatre, I cannot tell you how many times I had to say “the new Disney movie” to describe ‘Strange World’ because they had no idea what it even was. I haven’t seen a huge blockbuster get buried like this since ‘The New Mutants’ but even then at least people knew about it.
To get a sense of what the movie is about, it’s an adventure movie set in a fantastical world, this family goes on a mission to help save their home and it is on this quest that they find many revelations about themselves, their legacy and the world as they know it. It sounds grand and epic, right? Well, to give you a better sense of what the movie is actually like, I can say that the script is so genuinely awful that it fails in doing the simplest task, giving the audience a character to root for. There is no main character here, you cannot tell if it’s Searcher or Ethan or even Jaeger because none of them has a strong enough arc. Character development is kept to a minimum and when it does happen, it’s only because the plot needs it to happen, it doesn’t feel natural. The sense of humour also doesn’t feel natural as this thing cracks a lame joke every couple of seconds. If there were two jokes that genuinely made me chuckle that’s a lot. I’ve seen people describe certain movies like lists with boxes to be checked off and this is the first time I can say that I understand what that means. It is just one cliche after another. It’s the “that’s not my dream dad, it’s yours” plot, the “my father treated me horribly so I’m going to be overprotective and make decisions for my son because of trauma” plot. You can for the most part predict every move that a character will make and every conversation that will take place.
There is a strange pleasant nature to the worldbuilding this movie presents, it’s very abstract, lively and colourful and the twist at the end regarding the “Strange World” is quite fun as well. The animation is great as expected although I did notice that the characters acted intensely animated, as in I got the same feeling I get when I watch people on TikTok imitate animated characters and I don’t mean that in any complimentary way. They were moving and emoting in a way that was too over the top, even for an animated movie if that makes any sense. Also maybe this is a controversial opinion but Splat is the laziest creation Disney has ever come up with. Decades of fantastic sidekicks and this is where we end up, I know it makes sense in the movie but it’s still incredibly dumb in my opinion. You can tell that they wanted Splat to be a hit character who would sell out toys, I just don’t know how it got approved, I truly don’t.
In the end, ‘Strange World’ isn’t awful because it has queer representation or because it has an interracial couple or because it’s actually progressive in terms of the representation it’s providing, it’s awful because the script is confused and incomplete, the characters all lack a proper emotional arc and the plot is just about the most predictable and unoriginal thing you can imagine. The plot twist at the end was fine but at that point, if you’re still watching the movie, you’re already over it.
‘Strange World’ is still showing in certain cinemas as well as streaming on Disney+.