‘Strange World’: Explorers discover a land of eye-popping color, exotic creatures in fast-paced Disney adventure

It’s no ‘Encanto,’ but the family-friendly fun fest offers plenty of ingenious visuals and upbeat messaging.

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Ethan (voice of Jaboukie Young-White) encounters a blobby creature he names Splat in “Strange World.”

DISNEY

The thing about this world is it’s really STRANGE. It’s a strange world is what it is!

Hey, there’s a title for a Disney animated movie. While the colorful and wonderfully silly and positivity-laced “Strange World” isn’t in the same category as relatively recent Disney beauties such as “Frozen,” “Zootopia” and “Encanto,” it’s a family-friendly fun fest with the expected ingredients of fast-paced action, ingenious visuals, terrific voice performances and, yes, some heaping spoonfuls of upbeat messaging about family ties, the importance of being true to oneself and how we should all take great measures to take care of not only each other but the world in which we live, no matter how STRANGE that world might be.

And it’s all rendered in a style that combines 21st century animation technology with an old-fashioned narrative straight out of an early 20th century pulp magazine.

‘Strange World’

Untitled

Disney presents a film directed by Don Hall and written by Qui Nguyen. Rated PG (for action/peril and some thematic elements). Running time: 102 minutes. Opens Tuesday at local theaters.

“Strange World” begins with an introduction to Avalonia, a community surrounded by mountains where the friendly villagers struggle to survive in a challenging environment but do their best to keep on keeping on. Dennis Quaid voices the legendary Jaeger Clade, a Paul Bunyan-esque explorer who has made it his life’s mission to one day make it across those unforgiving mountains and find out what’s on the other side, in the belief he will discover something that will greatly improve the quality of life for all Avalonians. (I wish they would have just called him Jaegermeister Clade, but you know, Disney family film.)

On one such mission, Jaeger’s teenage son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a glowing green plant that seems to have some pretty incredible and promising special elements — but Jaeger doesn’t want to hear about some stupid plant, they’ve got to weather this storm and make it to the other side of the mountains, no matter what the cost, because that’s what REAL explorers do!

The rest of the group disagrees and says they should turn back before it’s too late and they’re swallowed up by the elements. Jaeger waves them off and keeps trudging forward, disappearing into the elements.

Cut to some 25 years later, and Avalonia has been transformed into a verdant paradise, thanks to Searcher’s discovery, which is known as “pando” and has become the plant-based power source that literally lights up the community. Searcher, who despite his name never wanted to be a reckless explorer like his father (who hasn’t been seen since that fateful day all those years ago), loves his life as a farmer who cultivates fields of pando, while his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) expertly pilots the crop-dusting plane, and his teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) reluctantly works the fields with his father while dreaming of one day becoming a great adventurer like the grandfather he’s never met. (That Searcher and Meridian are an interracial couple, and Ethan is gay, is presented in a matter-of-fact and lovely way. Good on you, Disney.)

Everything is awesome, to quote a line from another studio’s animation franchise — until the day when the magical powers of the pando begin to fade, and it appears the plant will die out and plunge Avalonia back into the Dark Ages. Lucy Liu’s Callisto Mal, the president of Avalonia, will lead a mission deep into the underworld of the planet in a quest to find the source of pando — and informs Searcher he’s coming along and he doesn’t have much of a choice, unless he just wants to sit around and watch their world crumble.

Off we go on our Journey to the Center of the Earth, and wouldn’t you know it, young Ethan has stowed away on the ship because this is his big chance for an unforgettable adventure, which prompts Meridian to also join the crew — and who should they eventually discover in this strange and weird world but Jaeger Clade himself, who has spent the last quarter-century stuck here, either unable or unwilling to find his way home. That gives us three generations of the Clade family, with Searcher telling his father, “I’m not like you!” and Ethan telling his father, “I’m not like you!”

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On a mission to the underworld, Searcher (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal) finds his long-lost father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid).

DISNEY

All the while, they’re immersed in a vibrant and exotic and bizarre underworld dominated by shades of purple and pink and orange, and all sorts of creepy crawling or swimming creatures, many of them with gross squishy bodies and multiple tentacles. (There’s also a cute blue creature Ethan names Splat, who looks like a can of Slime come to life. When one crew member meets Splat, he immediately sees the potential in merchandising rights, ha ha.)

Of course, the three generations of Clades are going to have to figure out a way to put aside their differences so they can survive this dangerous mission, discover why pando is dying and maybe even figure out a way to save their community. Along the way, they’ll make some interesting discoveries — about the strange world, and about themselves. What’d you expect, they’d go their separate ways and Avalonia would be turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland?

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