Strange World review: Disney’s Jules Verne-meets-Miyazaki style anime is mired in daddy issues

Director Don Hall’s animated film takes you on a colorful, family voyage. The average screenplay though partly spoils the sci-fi anime adventure.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Social message was generally the stuff of art house cinema, but it’s rubbed onto the world of animation too. Turning Red [2022], Moana [2016], Song of the Sea [2014] are among the fine examples. Raya and the Last Dragon [2021] writer Qui Nguyen pens Strange World [2022]. It is no feminist tale, but its subtext tackles patriarchy, bats for environment. It also has the distinction of being Disney’s first openly gay film. Be rest assured, the film is unlikely to release in Qatar.

Nguyen and director Don Hall’s anime comes across as a Jules Verne-meets-Miyazaki style adventure drama. Verne was a 19th century French novelist, playwright known for his voyage creations. His popular work includes Journey to the Centre of The Earth [1864], Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas [1870] and Around the World in Eight Days [1872].

Don Hall’s Strange World [2022] is set in a strange utopian land Avalonia where noted explorer Jaeger Clade [voiced by Dennis Quaid] lives for the thrills of an adventure. Such is his passion that he chooses to leave behind his family. Jaegar’s passion mirrors that of the legendary French novelist. 

25 years later, Jaeger’s son Searcher Clade [Jake Gyllenhaal] embarks on a dangerous mission below the surface to find a cure for the rising soil erosion in the utopian state. Though named Searcher, he’s anything like his father. Searcher’s happy being a ‘pando’ farmer. The green gourd-like substance/plant serves as the God-sent fuel to Avalonia. As the Pando fields run dry, Searcher and co. face a race against time to find the root cause. Ethan [Jaboukie Young-White], Searcher’s 16-year-old son gate crashes the expedition. The journey takes the team to a ‘Strange world’, but it also comes with its daddy issues.

Hall and Nguyen’s film celebrates the voyager’s spirit. It’s ‘strange’ world perhaps is influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s creations. One of the leading character calls it sub terrain labyrinths. The array of colors, the varied anime species combine to give a glittering visual experience. The varied species of all shapes and sizes get a bit too flashy and fancy for this reviewer’s weak eyes. It’s not the strange world but the script that doesn’t build consistent engagement.  After a while, the writing seems elementary with the characters too not appealing more. A certain déjà vu creeps ‘Up’ [2009] your mind. 

Strange World though makes more than a point through its subtext. Up first is the patriarchy where a father often imposes his will on his child. The Avalonian over-dependency on the Pando plant subtly points towards the human exploitation of natural resources. The environmental cause is also heightened with the Avalonians striking us as vegetarians. But the most eye-catching visual is the open expression of gay love involving a person born out of inter-race marriage, and how the Avalonians accept it as perfectly normal. (They also deem normal for parents to smooch in front of their kid). How this trope serves as a fine introduction to the target audience [children] on the different human orientation.

Gyllenhaal convinces you as the overtly protective father of a 16-year-old son. Maybe this comes from having separated from his father 25 years ago. While he maybe overprotective, but Searcher’s no overbearing father. Jaeger though is over enthusiastic and that justifies the melodrama. Ethan is no rebel. He is a jovial teen, one who just aspire free space.  There’s a character for the desis too where Caspian [Karan Soni] is the nerdy member of the expedition.  The patriarchy story perhaps undermines the female contribution. The female characters and the respective voices don’t strike that strong connection.  

Strange World takes you on a colorful family, adventurous voyage. It does reach its desired destination. The journey though is heckled by an average script.

Strange World is set to be released in theatres on 25 November in India.


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