Strange World, a 2022 movie produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, is the story of a society trapped within a ring of mountains. The movie follows primarily Searcher Clade, Jake Gyllenhaal, an ex-explorer who became a farmer of the society’s power source named Pando.
At first, the society lacked a power source, and they thought the only way to have a better life was by escaping the mountainous ring around them. Searcher and his father, Jaeger Clade, Dennis Quaid, are searching for an escape when suddenly Searcher finds a powerful plant that can provide energy for the region, named Avalonia.
When Searcher says the crew should go back with the plant and the crew agrees, Jaeger departs from the group, hoping to still find an exit from the ring of mountains.
After this, the movie flashes forward to 25 years later, when Searcher is a successful farmer of the plant, Pando, and has a wife named Meridian, Gabrielle Union, and son named Ethan, Jabouki Young-White. The society is thriving using this plant for their power, and the people are happier than ever.
All this changes when Pando starts dying. The mayor, Callisto Mal, Lucy Liu, and her crew bring their airship with them to ask Searcher to join their expedition to find the problem with Pando. Searcher does not want Ethan to join, a fight ensues, and Searcher leaves without saying goodbye to Ethan.
Later, the crew starts descending into a deep pit while following the roots of the Pando plant, when Meridian comes to the ship because Ethan snuck on board. In an unfortunate turn of events, the captain of the ship disappears and Meridian, a pilot for the family farm, takes over.
Meridian steers the ship to safety, but not without accidentally crash landing through an odd membrane and into what can only be described as a strange world, the namesake of the movie. Searcher gets separated from the crew, Ethan goes to look for him, and Searcher reunites with his father Jaeger.
Jaeger describes this world to be “a subterranean labyrinth where everything’s alive. And most things, well, they want to eat you.”
This movie is my absolute favorite movie, and while that seems like it could be an exaggeration, that is completely genuine. This movie is a fantastic blend of coming of age, sci-fi, romance and idealist concepts. The movie takes the idea of a society confronting problems and actually finding solutions.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is the clear diversity in the movie without it being acknowledged as odd or different. An important element of stories with unique worlds is how things seen as out of the ordinary can seem completely common, and the directors of this movie did a fantastic job of using that advantage.
With an almost entirely non-white cast of characters, and a voice acting cast to match, this film does a great job of embracing diversity and casting actors as diverse as their on-screen vision. This is a really important thing as a producer to provide opportunities to communities who are less frequently offered these opportunities.
Another important feature of the diversity in the film was the presence and featuring of a gay main character. Throughout the movie, Ethan discusses his affection for his friend Diazo, Jonathan Melo, to which he receives only support. For young queer kids, this representation could help them realize they are not alone.
While diverse characters were a huge reason I love this movie, I also really love how dynamic the characters are. Throughout the story, characters start with very solid uncompromising worldviews. Eventually, they realize they can see each others’ sides and learn from one another.
“My whole life, I worked so hard to be the exact opposite of my dad. And looks like I ended up just like him,” Searcher notes.
A valuable part of the story is when parents apologize and realize the generational cycles they are perpetuating. The movie focuses on following one’s own path and acknowledging that one’s path cannot be decided by their parents. So often, people forget that parents can be wrong so showing this in a children’s movie can be very helpful.
An important element to this movie was the idea of Ethan’s game, Primal Outpost, which focuses on living in harmony with the environment, rather than competing for resources. This gave a good metaphor for living in ways that benefit others and working to minimize the harm one does to the Earth and creatures living here.
“There are no bad guys. The objective isn’t to kill, or destroy monsters. You’re just supposed to build a working civilization utilizing the world around you,” Ethan explains.
Encouraging people to think about their actions and how they interact with the world around them is a very critical lesson provided by the movie. The way people treat the world they live in, and the way people care for the Earth can have incredibly negative or incredibly positive effects on the world as a whole.
This movie teaches many incredibly important lessons and can act as a fantastic resource for children and adults alike. I am so glad this has been added to the animated movie repertoire, and I desperately hope for more movies like it in the future.
The movie ends with a letter from Ethan to his dad, where he acknowledges the way that society can adapt and change when it needs to.
“It’s inspiring to see how resilient people can be. We can be resourceful. We can surprise. The world’s clearly changed. And it continues to change. …” Ethan writes, “The best legacy we can leave is making a present worth opening tomorrow.