Review: ‘Strange World’ explores big, bold colorful themes

By Jocelyn Noveck | Associated Press

Is Searcher Clade the most millennial dad in all of animated moviedom? He has that telltale hipster beard. A sensitive voice sorta like Jake Gyllenhaal. And he feeds his kid avocado toast, with an egg on top.

Oh wait, that IS Gyllenhaal in “Strange World,” Disney’s pleasantly entertaining, gorgeously rendered but slightly heavy-handed meditation on climate change and father-son dynamics. The actor charmingly voices a character drawn to look so much like him, you almost expect an animated Swiftie to come around, asking for that infamous scarf back. (Sorry, but it’s been a Taylor Swift kind of month.)

The very name “Searcher” sounds vaguely millennial, too, but actually it’s a reference to both the blessing and the curse of the Clade family, a storied clan of explorers. In a prologue, we see the young Searcher set out on a family expedition led by his dad, burly Jaeger Clade, whose life goal is to find what’s beyond the forbidding mountains that ring their homeland, Avalonia. But before they get there, young Searcher discovers something shocking.

It’s a group of plants that seem to be lit up, glowing from an unseen energy. What is this magical crop? Searcher argues that they need to bring it back to Avalonia, where it could serve many uses. But Jaeger (voiced with appropriate gruffness by Dennis Quaid) refuses to turn back. He tosses his young son his compass and continues by himself. Twenty-five years go by.

Wait, what? Dad stays away for 25 years? This is truly deficient parenting, and it’s no wonder that when grownup Searcher has his own son, Ethan (an adorable character sweetly voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), he’s a helicopter parent, doting on the boy a bit too much. Grandpa is still lionized in town with a large statue attesting to his exploits. But Searcher tells Ethan that despite his fame, Grandpa was a majorly absentee dad.

Let’s pause to consider the themes at play. We have climate change issues in the form of “pando,” the crucial energy source that Searcher now farms and has modernized Avalonia. And we have three generations of men: the very different Jaeger and Searcher, a boomer and a millennial if you will, and then young Ethan, trying to find his way. There’s much dialogue here about breaking from expectations to forge your own path.

There’s also the not-insignificant fact that Ethan has a same-sex crush. This has led some to call the film the first Disney animated gay teen romance. That’s a bit of a stretch, because this budding romance is a side plot, referred to by a number of characters, but by no means a major topic of discussion.

But maybe that’s the point — if it’s not a major plot point, nor is it a sneeze-and-you-miss it moment like, for example, that quick glance in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017 that was heralded as the first Disney “gay moment.” It’s just a given that when Ethan talks about his crush, he’s talking about Diazo, a boy, …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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