Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Adventure Time: STRANGE WORLD

Strange World is Disney Animation once again returning to its least frequent mode: the cheery, red-blooded adventure film. We might get notes of that threaded through their usual animal antics or fairy tale musicals, but when they decide to go all out—the Atlantis: The Lost Empires, the Treasure Planets—the results can be quite entertaining. In the case of Strange World, we’re introduced to a family of explorers whose patriarch (Dennis Quaid) never returns from an attempt to cross the seemingly insurmountable mountain range that surrounds their expansive home valley. This leaves his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) to become a farmer instead. This is an imagined old world where electricity is grown on the vine, and thus allows an agrarian society to have sparkly sci-fi vehicles and gadgets run off of freshly harvested glowing orbs. Farming may not be as exciting as exploring, but it’s perhaps more important. Decades pass, and this farmer, who now has a son of his own (Jaboukie Young-White), is recruited to join an expedition. The crops are dying of a mysterious disease and a group is off in a hovering aircraft—that and the environmentalist bent make for a clear Miyazaki nod—to track down the source. And so off they go, reviving the old family tradition. The movie is told with a similar pluck, traipsing from one appealing cliffhanger to the next in true serial fashion, complete with a soaring heroic orchestra theme and a band of appealing characters.

There’s a Boy’s Adventure magazine aesthetic to the plot’s development, shot through with a refreshingly casual 21st-century diversity—there are men and women, with figures of every color and a couple orientations and it’s no big deal, which is, of course, the big deal. And the world the team discovers, deep in the roots of their prized crop, is a feast of vibrant colors and fluffy surfaces. They find towering Seussian trees and curling DayGlo cliffs, fields of koosh-ball tentacles and grasses, flocks of floating fish and herds of rolling blobs. There’s even a cute blue gummy glob that splats around with chipper personality and becomes the obvious critter sidekick. And guess who else has been trapped down there? In this swirling mystery world of topsy-turvy dangers, there is, of course, room for intergenerational caring and conflict as three generations of guys—a tough grandpa, a stubborn son, and a sensitive grandson—have to learn to work together and truly discover a new way to survive. (Having a great mom (Gabrielle Union) involved helps, too.) Writer-directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon) weave this family story through the adventure quite naturally, in a charmingly busy picture of constant color and movement. By the end, it’s also brought into focus a parable of ecological collapse and a need to reform an economy around alternatives to destructive industries. All this and a breezy fantasy adventure with eye-pleasing visuals and the earnest ode to family togetherness? Why, that’s just about all you’d want from a satisfying family movie night.

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