Film Review – Strange World (2022)

films, reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Do you remember how Disney finally released an animated film with an openly gay character? You might not because there was basically no marketing campaign for it. Did Strange World purposefully get buried? Did they do it so they could prove that nobody wants “wokeness” in their family films? Probably. The film was quickly labelled a box office bomb and had one of the lowest Disney openings in recent years. I didn’t really know anything about the film when I came to watch it this week because I barely knew it existed. I honestly don’t remember seeing anything about this film and I don’t understand why. I mean, it boasts a cast including the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid and Lucy Lui. You’d think they’d want to make more noise about it. So, were they really hiding it because of the LGBTQ+ representation or is the film just not that good?

There’s a moment in this film when a teenager, Ethan, is asked about any crushes he currently has. Ethan goes on to describe his feelings for a boy at school. It was at this point that I tensed up a bit because we’re so used to seeing young queer characters having to fight for acceptance from their relatives. Instead, it’s not even an issue. The scene plays out beautifully because the fact that Ethan is gay isn’t an issue. He’s just a teenager wondering how to get his crush to notice him. It’s perfect and exactly the right way to feature LGBTQ+ characters in children’s films. For this alone, I would hail Strange World a success.

Taking a step back, I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed by the premise. Something that is disappointing considering how amazing it looks. We are introduced to a weird and wonderful world that only gets more weird and wonderful as we go on. I absolutely loved spending time exploring with the characters and getting to grips with the increasingly vibrant world-building. In terms of animation, this has to be one of the more exciting looking films that Disney has made in recent years. Certainly compared to the likes of Onwards which just looks a bit lacklustre in comparison to this.

If anything is holding this film back, it’s the story itself. Yes, it has promise but it just falls back on the same old tropes. I was looking forward to watching this play out as the narrative has hints of Jules Verne and Terry Pratchett. It was a fantastical journey into a strange land and I was here for it. The problem is the same family melodrama. It’s all so familiar and we see the exact same beats play out. It feels as though Disney were a bit too concerned about doing something too original so they went safe with the overriding narrative.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible film. Certainly not terrible enough to justify Disney ignoring it. It’s just that it could be better. It was certainly a lot better than I was expecting. Obviously, the representation in this film is one of the major selling points and I would like to think it’s only the start for the company. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last time we get any kind of open reference to LGBTQ+ characters. At least we have these moments. It’s not enough but it’s something.

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