‘Strange World’ review: Disney Animation Goes Retro in a not-so-funny yet complicated adventure

Jake Gyllenhaal voices a daring explorer in the Disney toon movie that nods to inferior classics like “The Iron Giant” without ever capturing its charm.

By now, we all understand how the current era of pop culture finds itself obsessed with nostalgia. From “Stranger Things” to “The Crown” to reboots of everything from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “Sex and the City,” everything old is new again. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest feature film, “Strange World,” takes it to a whole new level, setting threads of family adventure in a charming antique story town before transporting its characters to undiscovered psychedelic country.

The town of Avalonia is located in the middle of a valley, bordered on all sides by an impassable mountain range. Famed explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) goes missing while searching for a way through the mountains. His researcher son (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes the town’s new savior after discovering a plant called pando. Their electric fruits are grown for Avallonia’s power source, allowing the city to blossom into a utopia of commerce and flying machines.

Years later, Searcher learns that Pando is dying everywhere, and the Avalonians’ way of life is in danger. He joins an expedition beneath the surface of their world led by Chief and pilot Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to find whatever kills the plant at the root, while his son Ethan (Jabuki Young-White) and his wife, pilot Meridian (Gabriel Union) tag along. The deeper they go into their goal, the more they realize that the relationship between their world and this mysterious plant is more complex than they realize.

“Strange World” has the makings of a fun, heartwarming adventure story, which it is, but much of the plot is mired in weird, unfunny dialogue and an unnecessarily convoluted story. Every setback or separation between the main characters is easily resolved and seems like it was created just to keep the movie’s runtime going. Every moment of emotional connection or open dread is undercut by a joke, as if the filmmakers (director Don Hall of “Big Hero 6” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” and writer Qui Nguyen of “Raya” and Netflix’s “Community”) have an allergy to Excessive seriousness.

Ethan is the studio’s “first ever gay character” (and his family is one of the few multiracial families in all of Disney), but as progressive as they are, even this feels shameful: His crush is shown in one scene at the start of the film, and apart Aside from small talk he is never mentioned again – easily cut to satisfy the international censorship that provides Disney with so much of its revenue. (I don’t necessarily blame the filmmakers for this; Disney’s animation staff has publicly and repeatedly called out the studio’s aversion to outlandish acting in the past.)

The film’s aesthetics are delightfully referential, sometimes to a fault. You can clearly read the inspiration even in the promotional materials: early 20th century adventure series, sci-fi novels like “Fantastic Voyage” and “John Carter from Mars,” HP Lovecraft’s stealth horror, “Avatar,” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” “,” A trip to the center of the earth. The list could go on for pages because there isn’t much that sets this movie apart from anything that came before. Even the planes and drift motorcycles the characters ride have 2000s steampunk vibes combined with the organic, round, friendly shapes of “Lilo.” and Stitch”.

Frantic speed hurts. There’s no time to appreciate anything you see, whether it’s an old-fashioned city, a technologically advanced metropolis, or an otherworldly land filled with bizarre, fantastically designed monsters. And there are some pretty cool design elements here: Meridian wears a large tunic with a cuddly shearling lining, and there’s a cool map of Avalonia on the airship bridge that you can just draw behind some of the characters.

This is probably the medium itself, because it’s easier to bend and stretch putty that’s computer-generated imagery than it is a pictogram. “Weird World” is the latest in Disney’s trend of putting out an animation starring the colorful blobs, and is leaning more than ever towards making a long version of one of those sensory videos for kids with dancing vegetables. Those of us who have come of age (this critic included) by now Disney, like every other major American production studio, have abandoned hand-drawn 2D animation and who are carrying the last disliked films (“Treasure Planet” and “Titan AE” Iron Giant”) As a final glimpse of an age that never existed, he may see the Strange World as an attempt to recreate some of that lost magic. But it’s hard to watch a movie where nostalgia prevents it from fulfilling the promise those stories made of showing us something we’ve never seen before.

Grade: c

Walt Disney Pictures will release Strange World in theaters on Wednesday, November 24.

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