Disney’s “Strange World” Review



Strange World cover

Beatrice Bruce, Reporter

Disney’s recent film Strange World released in theaters on November 23, 2022, with a budget of $135 to 180 million. It features Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade and Jaboukie Young-White as his son, Ethan Clade, as the two central protagonists of the film. The movie’s synopsis reads, “The Clades are a legendary family of explorers whose differences threaten to topple their latest and most crucial mission into uncharted and treacherous territory.”

The movie follows the story of the Clade family as they explore a subterranean world from which their main energy source, Pando, flows. Searcher is a humble farmer or discoverer of Pando living a quiet life, when a past exploring companion tells him that the crop is in danger. They have to venture deep into their world to figure out why the crop is dying.

The movie itself, while not bringing anything strikingly new to the table, addresses some topics not seen in typical Disney movies. One of those topics, which has been seen in more recent works, such as Encanto, is generational tensions. Similar to DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, a father and son (in this case, adding on a grandfather) are divided over their attitude towards something strange and foreign as they discover a new world. Ethan Clade, with the teachings of the card game Primal Outpost, wants to live in tandem with the creatures in the subterranean world, while his grandfather harms the environment he believes to be working against him. This specific disagreement also reflects the real world issue of climate change and how people effect it for the sake of technological advancement or simply their own benefit. Pando, their version of electricity, led to the creation of wondrous technology. However, it is revealed to be a deadly virus infecting the world they live in. In the end, they decide to abandon Pando for the better of their world, instead using renewable energy like wind turbines.

Overall, I don’t personally have many thoughts on the movie itself. I enjoy the fact that it addresses relevant issues like global warming and people’s hand in it, and I enjoy stories of adventure, exploration, and new worlds. I am more interested in bringing up a different factor of the movie: its marketing.

Strange World received significantly less marketing than most Disney movies. Personally, I only ever saw skippable YouTube ads, while others I have asked only knew it existed because it was showing in theaters or they heard about controversy regarding this exact topic. Many people believe the lack of marketing was because of the main cast. Ethan Clade, one of the main characters, is revealed to be gay near the beginning of the movie when faced with his school crush, Diazo. The voice actor for Ethan, Jaboukie Young-White, is gay himself. Ethan is also mixed, Searcher Clade being white and his mother, Meridian Clade, being black. While Disney has gotten somewhat better with its queer content (note The Owl House and Lightyear’s same-sex kiss), many believe that Ethan’s orientation played a large part in Strange World’s relative lack of marketing.

Strange World did not perform very well in the box office, but it wasn’t necessarily due to the fact that the movie featured a central gay character like many conservatives believe. Others have attributed the box office flop to the lack of token Disney movie characteristics like musical numbers or princesses / princess-adjacent positions, along with sci-fi not being Disney’s forte.

While it wasn’t necessarily an innovative movie, Disney’s Strange World, taking after Jules Verne pulp comics, brought topics like climate change and centering marginalized characters into the corporation’s movies.