Emily Fritz | A&E Editor
Jan. 26, 2023
In celebration of The Walt Disney Company’s 100th year in existence, Walt Disney Studios has continued to reimagine classic tales like “The Little Mermaid,” which sets to debut as a live-action remake this spring, while also producing original films like “Elemental.”
The newest release for Disney’s “100 Years of Wonder” celebration was “Strange World,” starring Jaboukie Young-White, Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid.
The plot of the movie follows three generations of men, all hoping to cultivate a healthy father-son relationship where they can share their passions.
As the trope goes, each son in the lineage discovers their own passion and rebels over their desire for self-expression and a break from the looming legacy that their father’s are trying to push onto them. All the while, three men are aiding their isolated town through an energy crisis by exploring an underground world filled with unclassified invertebrate organisms.
After a major box office failure, the film was delivered silently to Disney+, with little hype or marketing to encourage audiences to become new subscribers. Admittedly, the plot of the movie lacked the depth that Disney seemed to be attempting.
A similar film, “Turning Red,” focused on the coming-of-age of young women mixed with the generational trauma usually found in mother-daughter relationships. While that film was also received with mixed reviews for tackling controversial topics for family films, like preteen puberty, it stuck the landing for emotional vulnerability and meaningful change. Though “Strange World” hoped to fill the same role for young men, the plot felt underdeveloped and rushed.
The film has received praise for diversity and representation, as many of the characters belonged to the differently abled community, a multitude of minority groups or the LGBTQ+ community. The main character, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), expressed an interest in one of his friends, Diazo, but their same-sex romance went largely unexplored.
More conservative viewers took issue with the gay representation. when in reality, it felt like a cheap effort to be inclusive. LGBTQ+ characters and romances deserve to be seen and their stories deserve to be told. While credit is due to Disney for putting an LGBTQ+ character (who was portrayed by an LGBTQ+ actor) in the spotlight, criticism is also deserved for allowing this media breakthrough to be pushed to the side as a minor detail. Perhaps if the main plot were more effective, it wouldn’t feel like such an out-of-place detail.
Other complaints pulled from the title. The “strange world” that they explored failed to deliver. Although the setting was colorful and bright, the underlying themes of environmental harmony went largely unheard from the majority of the movie, which was exceptionally frustrating.
Moreso, while Disney is usually applauded for their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint during the ongoing climate crisis, there is still an undeniable irony when large corporations include messaging about being greener on an individual level.
The overarching conflict between the town of Avalonia and the strange world was your average man versus nature. [SPOILER] While the small community had built their lives around what appeared to be a naturally occurring and renewable energy source, it turned out to be a parasitic disease that was attacking their natural environment.
While the messaging was well-intentioned, this plotline also needed more development and tension. When a way of life is facing undeniable but impactful change, it is almost always met with resistance. The resolution of the movie was simple and understated, with no real antagonist. The peaceful change of heart was appreciated but was largely unrealistic.
Lastly, the film attempted to draw inspiration from the “Strange Worlds” comics of the 1950s with scattered 2D animations and overexaggerated scene transitions.
Because the original comics have fallen victim to their age, the inspirations were not intuitively clear for audiences but might’ve been an attempt to attract older viewers.
Overall, this movie had a lot of potential but ended up being a flop. Had the movie been longer, it may have been able to pull together its loose ends and give more substance to its viewers. “Strange World” had a lot of good ideas and good intentions, but couldn’t successfully assert any of them.
The ratings for this movie were all over the place: Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 72%, IMDB gave it a 5.6 out of 10 and it barely scraped by with 2.5 stars on Google Reviews. Disappointed, I give it three out of five stars.