It’s been a while since “Fern Gully” (1992) and “WALL-E” (2008) but the eco myth – how we go from ecological imbalance to balance – has returned to children’s cinema.
“Strange World” centres on the Clades, a legendary family of explorers, with Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal playing father and son once again (following 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow”).
Searcher Clade (Gyllenhaal) has no interest in following in the footsteps of his explorer father Jaegar (Quaid) and has chosen the quiet life of a farmer following his discovery of a magical electricity-generating plant which transforms life in his hometown. This decision to improve his home instead of searching for a better one separated father and son 25 years before, but their worlds collide again when the plant becomes sick, and Searcher – now a father himself – must go deep into the depths of their strange planet to make the plant strong once more.
A steampunk adventure of old combined with intergenerational drama and a strong environmental message, this is a ‘strange’ film with no villains and a main character who does not drive the action in the story. While they have a mission to save the plant, the characters spend most of the film responding to the environment around them, and this lack of agency makes Searcher a little less exciting to watch. He is a reluctant explorer, and you never forget it.
The family is charming, including pilot wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), who thankfully doesn’t get left behind where she otherwise might have in a male dominated family story. And yes, it includes Disney’s first gay main character in teenager Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). While his love story is not a big part of the movie, it is still lovely and marks progress for the traditional Mouse.
In terms of comedy, Disney has taken Pixar’s habit of always having a character that acts like a dog to elicit laughs (the cockroach in “WALL-E”, the human in “The Good Dinosaur”) to new levels by having two dog-like characters – an actual (three-legged) dog and a blue blob. And while these characters did elicit laughs, particularly from my six- and three-year-old kids, they were pretty much the only things that did. Can safely say – not one of those kids’ films with jokes for the adults.
The film is stunning, action packed, and with a very decent run time of one hour and 42 minutes, it did not overstay its welcome with the target audience in the screening I was at.
With so much action though, there is little time to develop the characters more than a sketched archetype of a set-in-his-ways Boomer, defiant Gen Xer and thoughtful Gen Zer, and the emotional climax doesn’t quite land in the way the film likely intended.
While its intentions are good and message pure, unfortunately this is not a classic in the making. There is a message that resonated with me though and one that would serve us well in our own eco battle – that our youngest generation is our biggest hope, and we should listen to them.