What have they been putting in Disney Animation’s tea? Judging by this trippy, rainbow-coloured homage to classic sci-fi, it’s something potent that rhymes with ‘jassid’. Because the studio’s 61st film is right up there with its third, 1940’s Fantasia, in its commitment to madcap visuals and a vibrant experimental streak.
Exploring its bonkers world of tentacled monsters and walking rock formations are the Clade family: earnest farmer Searcher (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal), his pilot wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), their perma-embarrassed teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) and the family’s cute three-legged dog. They’re summoned from their mountain-enclosed land, Avalonia (shades of Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon here), on a subterranean quest to save the miracle plant that powers the country. Somewhere down in the great below is Searcher’s long-missing explorer dad (Dennis Quaid), ready to provide some cross-generational tension with his beta son.
As well as a beautiful-looking creation, Strange World is a nostalgic one. The opening and closing credits bookend the movie with artwork styles borrowed from 1920s pulp mags like ‘Amazing Stories’, while co-directors Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Qui Nguyen pepper the movie with retro touchpoints. The debt to classic sci-fis like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage is there in every frame.
Judging by this trippy homage to classic sci-fi, they’ve been putting something potent in Disney Animation’s tea
There are some obvious flaws, including a story that somehow manages to feel a bit basic and quite complicated at the same time. The latter is down to a muddled eco message (aside from being in the ‘pro’ camp… I think?). But kids will love its primary-coloured wonderland that teems with weird and wonderful beasts, and only the stoniest-hearted grown-up won’t be moved by its inclusive celebration of family across generations.
In fact, with a queer character whose sexuality isn’t even commented on – even by crusty, reactionary old grandpa – and a sense of diversity in every frame, it feels groundbreaking by Hollywood standards. It’s storytelling that embraces progressive values so totally, it barely deems them worth commenting on. Which, you know, will annoy all the right people.
In cinemas worldwide Nov 23.