Movie Review: Disney gets lost in the animated doldrums in “Strange World”

 The actor Rainn Wilson recently changed his name to Rainnfall Heat Wave Extreme Winter Wilson as a way of protesting America’s indifference to the growing climate crisis facing the planet.

Young activist Greta Thunberg has devoted her life to challenging world leaders to do something, inspiring millions to emulate her and earning the ire of climate change deniers and those who financially back them the world over.

So if Disney decides the hour is getting late and there’s no sense in sugar-coating an animated parable about our pigheadedness in the face of imminent peril, and serves up a generally humorless and heavy-handed cartoon about an environmental crisis like “Strange World,” they’re not going to get criticized by me for their intent.

The film’s stumbling unoriginality, cliched characters and joyless jokes that land like flops from a constipated greenhouse gassy cow, however earn every ounce of ire I can summon.

I didn’t realize the screenwriter and co-director wrote “Raya and the last Dragon,” which was also a bust in my book, and in a lot of the same ways. Like this, it was overloaded in representation, underwhelming in story and dialogue.

I couldn’t make out Dennis Quaid‘s cleverly-disguised voice in the trailer. There was a lot that hit me out of the blue about this one, because there’s been zero buzz for it. Disney knows what they have here. Talking it up won’t help. So they haven’t.

Quaid plays a legendary explorer from a fantasy civilization trapped in a valley, surrounded by high mountains that he and his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempt to conquer in the opening sequence.

But Jaeger Clade is hellbent on carrying on when things turn disastrous. And son Searcher decides to head back to backward Avalonia with the electrically-charged berries from the Pando plant (Hey, Disney owns Pandora now, too!) he’s just discovered, which can help Avalonia even more than finding out what’s “beyond the mountains.”

Dad Jaeger goes missing. Searcher comes home, marries (Gabrielle Union), has a son (Jaboukie Young-White) builds a thriving Pando plantation, which in the intervening years has revolutionized their world. Floating cars, airships, electric light, all thanks to energy berries from a plant they’ve become positively addicted to.

But the plants are dying, and the leader (Lucy Liu) is intent on going out beyond the edges of their world, beneath it even, to find out why. Events conspire to put everybody in Searcher’s life on that airship with him and her — stow-aways included — all of them wrapped-up in solving the mystery of why the plants they need to fuel their civilization are going away.

On the way, they find Searcher’s long lost dad, who hasn’t changed. Can son and father evolve, with the help of one’s wife and the other’s grandkid, and learn to accept each other and figure out the solution to the Big Problem they discover?

I mean, the kid’s got this world-building video game he’s great at, and that could help.

I’d quote some funny lines from “Strange World,” but honestly, I didn’t hear any. A cute and helpful underworld creature they nickname Splat is meant to provide sight gags. As is the family mutt. But nah. Nothing doing.

The animation isn’t bad, in a “shades of ‘Avatar'” sort of way. And the “message” comes through, loud and clear. Will little kids figure out the allegory? Not without Mom and Dad explaining it to them, I fear.

But as I stopped taking notes — not proud to admit that at some point I wrote in HUGE type a four-letter expletive that rhymes with “QUIT” all the way across my notebook page — I picked up on where the laughs really are in this animated environmental comedy.

It’s a movie that’s about our addiction to something that’s killing us, which the Koch Brothers and their minions have brainwashed a third of the country into pretending isn’t happening.

The folks triggered by anti-consumerist “Wall-E” are going to have coronaries over this.

It’s built around a family with A) an interracial couple that’s not shy about showing affection, two loving farmers raising a B) gay teenager whom they adore and wholly support and treat as normal because that’s what loving, intelligent people do.

Heck, they even have a three-legged dog.

And when they’re given information about something they’re doing that’s endangering civilization, they adapt and repent.

I dare say the belligerent runt who picked a fight with Disney in Florida this past year, and his mouth-breathing minions are going to lose their rhymes-with-quit over that. So there’s that.

The movie? Not one of Disney’s best. One of its weakest in many years, I’d say.

Rating: PG for action/peril and some thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu and Jaboukie Young-White

Credits: Directed by Don Hal and Qui Nguyen, scripted by Qui Ngutyen. A Walt Disney Animation release.

Running time: 1:42


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Movie Review: Disney gets lost in the animated doldrums in “Strange World”

  1. Dementorx says:

    Finally someone mentions something about the interracial parents and the homosexual son. I had to evade the topic when my 4 year old son started asking me why does the boy like a boy. If I knew about that I would not have gone to watch it

  2. Lola Montez says:

    Where to begin with this wrongheaded review? THE KOCH BROTHERS? So nobody would use any fossil fuels except for these two guys? One of whom is DEAD FOR YEARS and the other is about 90 years old? Come on; nothing could say “denial of reality” more than trying to blame a world crisis on two individuals “you don’t happen to like” (or you resent for political reasons!).

    Next: nobody — NOBODY!!!! – -was “triggered” by “Wall-E” which is a beloved classic animated film.

    If Rainn Wilson has gone nuts, that’s a shame as he was the funniest thing on “The Office” but it has no larger social meaning (pretty sure that RainnFall Heat Wave is still using electricity and the internet, no?)

    “Young Greta Thunberg” is a TEENAGER. Since when we do seek science advice from teens (she is about 19 now but was more like 15 at the height of her fame) who have zero education, not even high school let alone college? Who are diagnosed as autistic (as her parents tell us in THEIR OWN book) and clearly depressed from her public behavior? Just screaming at world leaders “how dare you” accomplishes nothing — offers no practical solutions or ideas. BECAUSE SHE IS NOT A SCIENTIST.

    That a very lame Disney film is built on this thin structure is why this film is and will be a failure. Oh and also parents are not interested in woke indoctrination when they take their children or grandkids out for a fun afternoon at the movies during Thanksgiving or Christmas!!!

    Many reviewers (maybe with no kids?) don’t realize that the children taken to animated films this time of year are NOT sexually blossoming teenagers with crushes (gay or straight) but ages 4-10. No parent or grandparent wants to spend that fun afternoon explaining about gay sex to their preschooler.

    Also, I don’t know what this film’s “solution” to fossil fuels is, but I do know that in the real world… left libs, snarks and Greta have exactly NO IDEA how to keep the lights on or provide medical care or FEED billions of people without fossil fuels. Epic fail, sir.

    • Roger Moore says:

      Aaaaannnnd…thanks for making my point about climate-denialist homophobic wingnuts heads exploding for me. Cleanup on Aisle Lola!

      • Lola Montez says:

        And uh… thanks for stereotyping me because I dare to disagree with your review.
        Did I make homophobic remarks? no. I told the truth, which is that most parents and grandparents don’t want this indoctrination in movies they take kids to see at the holidays. This is a fact, and Disney is suffering financially for these decisions — we should be able to discuss this without name calling.
        I also stated that Wall-E, with a much more nuanced environmental message, is a greatly loved film by everyone and did NOT face any big “backlash” when it came out in 2008 (which by today’s awful standards, seems like a magnificent era of reason, talent, high quality movies and cultural normality!).
        It is not “climate denialism” to point out that Greta Thunberg is a child, with numerous mental problems including autism and anorexia. WHY ON EARTH would you point o her as a climate expert vs. the many scientists who have produced actual research on this subject?
        Rainn Wilson is acting like an immature idiot, and changing HIS NAME won’t affect the climate in any positive way, and it also smacks of a Hollywood celebritard who thinks what HE DOES as an individual has some effect on 330 million other Americans or 8 billion other people on this planet. NO IT DOES NOT.
        I did not say “ignore climate change”. I said “where are the practical solutions” vs. screaming or changing your name, which accomplish NOTHING?
        This film is tanking on Rotten Tomatoes and looking like another huge Disney flop, so… why is it forbidden to talk about the reasons WHY audiences don’t want this kind of woke indoctrination? None of that makes me a homophobe, as any of the gay and lesbian people in my own family would be very happy to tell you.
        When you dismiss the concerns of a majority of the audience because you have labeled them with ugly hate speech or claim they are “wing nuts”…. How does that move the conversation? What does it accomplish, Mr. Moore? Does it make you feel very big, woke and powerful?

      • Roger Moore says:

        Jesus, talk about a windbag! Your little Ill considered tantrum, thousands of words which you figure make you “right” and an authority on something you know little about. All your typing does nothing to negate or counter or even reflect the review I wrote, but is worth YOU reading over to see how shrill and shallow you come off. Your first assertion re “Wall-E” is a lie, as I had to contend with Fox Not News astro turf emails generated by whichever hosts made that movie a whipping boy, way back when. Lies followed by idiotic, snow flake knee jerking of exactly the sort I predicted when I wrote the review that way, which is why I wrote the review to trigger folks like you. It worked! Now, Go gasbag your family to death. They’re used to it.

  3. CE says:

    The movie is a load of crap that I wish I had never seen.

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