Diversity not enough to energize retro-inspired film
Where: In theatres
What: Movie, 102 mins.
Why you should watch: Disney seeks to atone for decades of racism with a somewhat bland film that embraces diversity in a story that never really heats up. A cool animated land is explored with just-as-cool invertebrates providing equal measures of peril and assistance to a bickering father-and-son team, an ever-competent mom and their hapless helpers.
It’s as if Disney tried to make amends for all its decades of racism with a film that checks every once-ignored cultural box. Strange World is an act of animated penance that focuses on a mixed-race couple — a white hipster dad, Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and an Black mom (Gabrielle Union) — and their happily queer teenaged son. He’s attracted to an Asian teen and the town’s heroic mayor is an Indigenous woman. Sikhs, disabled characters and more all supercharge the diversity in a plot where these details are merely incidental in a story that draws inspiration from long-ago action comic books and Indiana Jones, movies whose imagery the film occasionally mimics.
There’s a somewhat classic — or cliched — father/son disconnect as the stable, meek and mild-mannered Searcher (he’s a farmer after all) must contend with the reappearance of his adventurer dad, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), who is played as over the top as Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The gang set out on an adventure to save their semi-utopian land and lots of family-bonding-through-adversity takes place. The film is largely missing that wink at the audience or wisp of effective humour to cut the earnest messaging and is ultimately devoid of any features to distinguish it in a rich animation field.