Strange World

Jaeger Clade (voice of Dennis Quaid) was a storied explorer determined to find a route to the other side of the mountains which hemmed in the land of Avalonia.  His son, Searcher Clade (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal), was on that last expedition where his dad disappeared, but had turned back after discovering pando, a plant which, it turned out, if cultivated would provide enough power for all of Avalonia.   Searcher found his niche as a farmer, but his own son, Ethan (voice of Jaboukie Young-White), appears to have his grandfather’s genes.  When President Callisto Mal (voice of Lucy Liu) arrives in the airship Venture to tell Searcher they need to leave to discover why pando crops are dying, Ethan, tasked with staying behind to tend the farm, stows away to discover a “Strange World.”

Laura's Review: B

"Big Hero 6" director Don Hall and his writer/codirector Qui Nguyen ("Raya and the Last Dragon") have made an ecological version of 1966’s “Fantastic Voyage” by way of an indigenous creation myth and twofold father/son story.  This fantastical adventure story may be a metaphor for the destruction of the planet by human fossil fuel usage, but it entertains with its diverse cast of characters and an alien environment featuring every color but green and its own wild assortment of living creatures.

The entire Clade family is on that airship and it’s a good thing too, as Searcher’s wife Meridian (voice of Gabrielle Union), the family farm’s crop duster, is called into service when the ship’s original pilot befalls a tragic fate after they plunge into what at first appears a bottomless void.  Ethan bounds out to explore, he and Legend befriending Splat, a blobby blue hub with seven appendages who sounds like Cousin Itt and ends up a helpful go-between for two different worlds.  Meanwhile, as his panicked dad looks for him, Searcher finds another Clade entirely, his own dad, who saves him from a bunch of monstrous tentacled lavender creatures.

The world they travel through in their green airship is beautiful, like something imagined by Dr. Seuss in shades of pinks and violets.  Odd creatures abound, some friendly, like Splat and the featureless ray-like creatures who move in schools, some not, like the shocking pink pterodactyl-like flyers that attack.  Plant-like things may move and everything has the feel of being underwater.  But when the Clades discover that what they’ve come looking for isn’t at all what they expected, they’ll need to convince Callisto of a mission change.

“Strange World” embraces diversity to the max with Searcher and Meridian Clade’s interracial marriage the bedrock of a family featuring a gay son and Legend, a boisterous three-legged sheepdog.  Physically disadvantaged humans are also seen as contributing citizens of Avalonia, whose president has Native American features.   Hall and Nguyen have also embraced humor in a big way, the nerdy Searcher an embarrassingly goofy dad while Jaeger is more like a he-man Viking – that the two share prominent statues in Avalonia’s center for entirely different historical reasons adds to the amusing contrast.           

Disney’s “Strange World” delivers an important message without a hint of medicinal flavor.  It’s a colorful, funny adventure for the entire family.

Robin's Review: B-

Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) has lived in the shadow of his larger-than-life adventurer dad, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), but dreams to be a farmer. He earns that dream but at a cost. Jaeger left him for his grandest adventure yet – to go to “the other side of the mountain.” When a terrible blight begins to kill Searcher’s energy-rich crop, he must descend into the depths of the earth to find and fix the problem in “Strange World.”

Disney goes underground in its latest animated adventure and throws the kitchen sink at the story about a father and son, and a father and son. The movie begins with Jaeger leading his not-very-adventurous son, Searcher, into yet another dangerous mission. When they find a new species of plant, one with great potential for humankind, dad wants to continue his quest and they part ways.

Flash ahead and Searcher’s farm of power-plants, called pardo, is supplying clean, efficient energy to the land of Avalonia. He and his wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), have a teenage son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), and he is a chip off the old…Jaeger, much to Searcher’s chagrin.

Then, the catastrophe hits and the pardo plants are all in danger of dying. Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu), the president of Avalonia, heads a mission to go underground and find the cause of the blight and stop it. Of course, Searcher is called, because of his expertise with pardo plants, to go on the adventure, much against his will. What follows is a “Fantastic Voyage” kind of journey to a air-borne-water-world of bright colors, fantastical creatures of varying degrees of threat and a cute little blue blob named Splat.

The Clades, including stowaway Ethan, must face those creatures and it is at the point of greatest danger when a hero steps in to help the expedition. To Searcher’s shock, the savior is none other than Jaeger! It becomes a true family adventure as Searcher, Jaeger, Meridian and Ethan and the Avalonian team join forces to save the pardo plants and the world.

There are a whole bunch of messages being dished out by co-directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, with Nguyen’s original story, like climate change, tolerance of others’ choices, clean and renewable energy and family. As I said, it is a kitchen sink type of movie that throws everything at you. The odds are, I guess, that something would appeal to the masses. And, it sort of does.

Walt Disney Studios releases "Strange World" in theaters on 11/23/22.