Movie Review: Strange World (2022)

Ethan Clade, a gay biracial teen, is tongue tied when he meets his handsome crush. His supportive father, Searcher, plays wing man by talking up his son’s good qualities. Ethan is mortified. I braced myself for angry families to storm out of the cinema. But the audience remained seated. Nothing else in Disney’s Strange World lives up to the tension of that early scene.

Ethan’s sexuality is not the source of the Clade family’s conflict. That stems from the caverns beneath their world. Sensitive Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) fears them. Naïve Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) wants to explore them. Macho Grandpa Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) wants to conquer them. Their worldviews will clash when the President (Lucy Liu) enlists them to save the planet’s failing power source.

Their sci-fi adventure is familiar. Qui Nguyen’s screenplay lampshades the classic tropes. His interest is less in the Clade’s destination than in their personal growth. He successfully balances their strengths and weaknesses. Jaeger’s a bully but knows valuable survival skills. Searcher’s over-protective but a clever problem solver. Ethan’s reckless but deeply empathic. They help each other find a balance of brawn, brains and heart.

The supporting cast is less complex. Lucy Liu’s pragmatic boss and Gabrielle Union’s supportive mom are quick sketches. They’re the flip side of the men in last year’s Encanto. Another character’s death is immediately forgotten, suggesting hasty edits. The squeaking alien sidekick, Splat, is only bearable because they’re the smartest creature in the room. The remaining life forms are generic video game fodder. Though DeviantArt will have fun with the tentacle monsters.

Strange World sits comfortably alongside mid-tier works like Atlantis and Treasure Planet. It won’t break records or sell merchandise. But the movie is gorgeous, the third act is heartwarming and it introduces the first openly gay Disney hero. The latter earns it a spot in the history books.

You can find my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.