This Thanksgiving, Disney invites families to an overstuffed 'Strange World'

The duo behind 'Raya and the Last Dragon' returns with an eco-friendly new adventure.

Strange World

Strange World

Disney

Strange World, the latest animated adventure from the unstoppable entertainment empire that is Disney, comes in hot and heavy over most of its 102-minute runtime. Set in a universe that's both intriguing and confusing, it offers everything from trippy visuals to daddy issues. Were they not accompanying small children, the adults in the audience might be advised to get high before stepping into this overstuffed creation.

Our main character is Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal), a farmer who specializes in growing a plant-based natural resource called pando. Searcher is the main supplier of this mysterious power source, which largely runs his homeland of Avalonia. So when his crops start dying, the president (Lucy Liu) ropes him into an expedition deep underground to find the root cause.

Searcher forces his teenage son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), to accompany him on this quest, much to the boy's chagrin. Also along for the ride are Searcher's crop-duster pilot wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and Legend, their three-legged dog. When the group arrives at a subterranean labyrinth filled with freaky colors and freakier creatures, they pick up another family member: Searcher's long-lost dad, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), a legendary explorer who longed to see what lies outside of Avalonia, and has been stuck in this otherworld for a quarter of a century as a result.

Strange World

Strange World

Disney

Previously paired on another Disney project set in a fantastic realm, Raya and the Last Dragon, director Don Hall and screenwriter Qui Nguyen re-team to create their own fantastic voyage, an ever-winking salute to pulp serials, sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s and '60s, and anything Jules Verne-related. (There are even sequences where the computer animation switches over to an old-school, hand-drawn, comic-book style.) The two hash out sarcastic, screwball gags while also populating every frame with imaginative creatures, like a blue, bubbly little thing who Ethan essentially adopts and names Splat. The humans have round, bulbous noses that make them appear as though they exist in the same universe as the Wreck-It-Ralph movies.

Strange though this world may be, a family thrown into a wild and wooly adventure, trying to stay alive and sane throughout, is hardly uncharted territory. Nor is an animated film about a father and son butting heads anything new. Those who enjoyed the relationship between Hiccup and Stoick in the How to Train Your Dragon movies may be happy to hear that Strange also features a blustery bruiser of a man constantly at odds with his younger, craftier offspring. (Both Gyllenhaal and Quaid amp up the ridiculous, ego-driven aggressiveness whenever their characters are on screen.) Alongside the all-ages fun, Strange hits men with a sad truth: If they're not careful, they'll make the same mistakes their fathers did. 

Strange World

Strange World

Disney

Strange World has already nabbed headlines for making Ethan not only the product of a biracial marriage but also gay. This isn't unprecedented either; he's actually the second LGBTQ+ character to appear in a Disney cartoon in 2022, after Lightyear, and Ethan doesn't so much as share a quick peck with anyone. (He does harbor a crush.) Mostly, the movie handles his sexuality in a no-big-whoop fashion, with no one—not even his macho grandfather—the least bit fazed by it. In that respect, Strange seems like another Disney production designed to demonstrate how hip and understanding the Mouse House is these days. Is the company's recent, ongoing centering of people from different cultures an attempt to atone for all the racist, culturally insensitive material sprinkled throughout its century-long history?

In the end, Strange World is just too cluttered. It's overkill, how much it throws at you. There's even a big twist that's supposed to bring home its eco-friendly ideology, but which ends up making things even more, well, strange. A clangy, candy-colored journey to the center of… somewhere, Strange World is a reminder that we should all take care of each other and the planet we're currently occupying. That's a good message. It's the delivery of it that might induce some migraines.

Strange World opens in theaters everywhere Wednesday, November 23.

More Culture

Texas boy band Brockhampton ends things on a high note

Is Netflix's new Pinnochio any better than Disney's latest monstrosity?

Willie Nelson’s A Beautiful Time just might be the best album of the year

Bardo is a bloated quasi-memoir from the director of Birdman

For the latest and best from Chron, sign up for our daily newsletter here.