What was significant about Strange World’s LGBTQ+ representation other than the LGBTQ+ character being the protagonist, was that his queerness was something that came up through out the movie. The characters frequently talk about the boy that Ethan has a crush on. So it would be difficult for Disney to erase his queerness by deleting the scenes in which it is mentioned. There would just be too many scenes to get rid of.
Another thing that was refreshing about this representation was that despite the movie being about “daddy issues”, neither Ethan’s father nor his grandfather had issues with Ethan being attracted to other boys. This may mean that his family is generally accepting, but more likely homophobia doesn’t exist at all in this fantasy setting. After all, his grandpa, Jaeger, has been alone in the Strange World since his son who is now an adult, was a child. And he doesn’t bat an eye when Ethan tells him that he has a crush on another boy. Jaeger never even assumes that Ethan’s crush is a girl, when Ethan mentions having a crush without mentioning their gender.
But before the LGBTQ+ representation, the thing I noticed when actually watching Strange World was the stunning animation and design. The way the ice at the beginning reflected the light was beautiful. It reminded me of why people love that Frozen so much. Clade also lives on a farm with his family, and the setting design reminded very strongly of Studio Ghibli with a touch of The Hobbbit/Lord of the Rings. I wanted so badly to live in his farmhouse with stained glass windows, a round doorway, and a retro tiled kitchen. Also the characters outfits, reminded me with their puffy pants was Ghibili-esque.
The animation was rather different from Ghibli however, as it was three dimensional. It was cool to see how similar designs to Ghibli would look like with this type of more realistic and detailed animation. Not that there is anything wrong with the anime style in Studio Ghibli films, I just appreciated being able to see it in this 3D animation that Disney has shown us in it’s newer animated films. It also reminded me of Encanto because of all the bright colors. So if you liked the visuals of Encanto, I think you would love Strange World.
I will admit, I didn’t really find the plot to be the strongest part of the film. The famous explorer, Jaeger Clade, went missing on an expedition. On this expedition his son, Searcher, discovered a plant that he uses as an energy source. It ends up being used to power their whole country. The president tells Searcher that the plant has been dying, so they must go on a expedition to the location where they originally discovered it. Searcher’s son, Ethan, stows away in their airship, so his mom follows him. So it becomes a full family expedition!
The theme is mostly about intergenerational relationships between the men and boys in the family, telling the message that fathers or parents in general, shouldn’t expect their sons to have the same career interests as them. But that also doesn’t mean that they are completely different, they can like the different careers for the same reasons. People also all their own strengths. Additionally, there’s an environmental message, but no spoilers here! Also, with their journey into a strange world in the earth, and the daddy issues, it reminded me a lot of Journey to the Center of the Earth. So I wish it had been a bit more original. But I enjoyed how it harked back to older Disney adventure films, like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet.
I think the multiple themes and the plot is bit too complicated. It ends up becoming muddled. I agree with the overall messages. But I’ve noticed the Disney keeps making intergenerational relationship issues the main conflict of their newer animated films, like Encanto and Turning Red. I suppose this is nothing new for Disney since step-parent issues could still count as ingenerational issues. But it seems like it’s been an even more prevalent part of the plot, the weight of parental and grandparental expectations that their children can’t handle. In the end, they always fix the relationship, with the parents/grandparents realizing their wrongdoing. They realize that their children/grandchildren are their own person, and that they are growing in adult.
I think this a great message for the families watching these films together. But I’m tired of being given the same predictable message repeatedly. I liked the ending’s environmentalist message, and the interesting twist they did with it. But since this message only really showed up at the end, it seemed a bit tacked on. I think Wall-E did it better.
All in all, I’d give this film 4 out 5 stars. Yes, the plot had some things that I thought could have been done better. But it’s well worth the watch for the visuals alone. I also enjoyed the humour in it and the classically cute sidekick, Splat. And even though its themes and plot are a bit overdoned in Disney films these days, it is a least teaching families valuable lessons. And I appreciated the LGBTQ+ representation and overall diversity in Strange World. You can watch Strange World on Disney+ or rent it on Vudo or iTunes.
Strange World. Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu. Dir. Don Hall. 2022. Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios. Disney+, iTunes or Vudo $5.99.