Dazzling colors and so many themes make Disney’s latest a fun ride.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid both collaborate as a son and father for the first time since “The Day After Tomorrow” in “Strange World,” the new Disney animated feature, inspired by 1950s movies. While lacking the profound and challenging story of “Avatar,” it still provides a number of themes (like an openly gay teenager and different generations), a number of dazzling colors, and so many strange things, it’s impossible to name them. No really, I can’t name them, because I have never seen any of them before.
You get a comic book style introduction, when the brave adventure Jaeger Clade (voiced by Quaid) brings his son Searcher (voiced by Gyllenhaal) on adventures. Then, we return to the Disney CGI animation, as the old man is looking to see what’s beyond the mountains, but Searcher prefers to plant magic green balls that produce electricity. That’s not enough for him, and he leaves him behind to find his expedition. Real father of the year.
The magic green plants make their city of Avalonia look like if Disney Princess movies discovered electricity. They have almost all the modern amenities they need-cars, coffee machines, and street lights. Even the kids play card games that the parents don’t get. I don’t even get Pokemon. Sorry about that, boys.
The adventure of “Strange World” features Searcher being enlisted by the president Callisto Mal (voiced by Lucy Liu) to embark on a mission to save the plants. Half of it becomes a family vacation as his gay son Ethan (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), his sassy and strong-willed wife Meridian (voiced by Gabrielle Union), and their three-legged dog tag along, while the other half shows us a world underneath theirs. A world where comic relief characters look like germs, like a little blue guy Ethan names Splat, and trees, plants, and so many strange creatures come in many colors, like a cloud-like creature that’s my favorite color aqua with some purple stripes. And it would take more than a miracle for the ship to fly over a waterfall of acid.
And then comes the father-son reunion, as Jaeger is still searching for what’s on the other side of the mountains, and has been dealing with all these creatures. He’s still the ambitious explorer, while Searcher tries to talk some sense into him, and Ethan, who looks up to Grandpa. These pops don’t get the card game he plays, which is about cooperation and no fighting, and Jaeger asks: “What’s a story without a villain?” Not every animated movie has to have a villain, but rather some truth and adventure in the mix.
Parts of the story just come and go, but there are messages that kids and adults should ease into, one of them regards saving the planet and the other regards the definition of a father. And I especially admired the voice work from Gyllenahaal, Quaid, and Young-White. A nice little “Day After Tomorrow” reunion allows them to have a different kind of father-son chemistry, while this gay, young actor is full of youth and spirit.
Kids will get some tickles out of the silly comedy that pops by, others will sympathize the dog with three legs, and adults will like where this adventure is heading off into. As long as they’re not anti-environmentalists. “Strange World” is a strange Disney animated film, and I guess that’s what makes it enjoyable.