To the extent that Strange World will be discussed at all, the movie’s actual qualities will not be considered. This is because Disney’s latest computer-animated story is also the newest piece of red meat for hysterical reactionaries flooding audience rating metrics to condemn its central portrayal of a young gay character (somehow an animated first for the mega-brand), though recently Lightyear featured a gay peripheral character, which in itself was enough to provoke the maddest freaks of the land to label it a woke disaster.
Strange World was curiously under-promoted, though and is likely bound for Disney+ sooner rather than later, inspiring shrunken discourse along with mystery about whether the world’s largest entertainment company cares about theaters anymore, but also about whether they really want a family movie with progressive representation to succeed. Maybe some important people over there agree with the bigoted zealots suppressing its public score on Rotten Tomatoes.
If it tastes so bad for the homophobes, that’s probably because the representation afoot is no stale tokenism and actually has flavor. But the teenage love story they’re so steamed about is just one strand in a larger, richer allegory about weirdness, gentleness, hubris, and Disney’s most classic themes: family and love. The historical features of the swashbuckler archetype are brought into tenderly revisionist scope—Dennis Quaid voices the reckless adventuring grandpa, Jake Gyllenhaal is his frustrated farmer son, and Chicago’s own Jaboukie Young-White is the pubescent grandson trying to show both of them what wonder really is.
Everyone is delightfully lost in a softly Lovecraftian Osmosis Jones labyrinth with climate change overtones and lovely faceless critters everywhere, trying to pantomime meaning to these stumbling humans. All comes together predictably in a neat and gorgeous less-than-two-hours, occasionally broken up by pulpy graphic novel interstitials. It’s a terrific ride.PG, 102 min.