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In ‘Strange World,’ saving the planet with some help from ‘Splat’

Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal are father-and-son eco-adventurers in Disney’s latest.

A scene from the animated film "Strange World."Disney via AP

Disney’s “Strange World” lives up to its title. The animated universe created by director Don Hall and co-director and screenwriter Qui Nguyen is overrun by fish-like flying creatures, tiny origami pterodactyl, glowing green fruit, a cute blob called “Splat,” and gigantic boulders that roll around before unleashing multitudes of hideous tendrils. Practically every plant and creature, no matter how cute or cuddly, is lethal. No, the strange world in question isn’t Australia. It’s Avalonia, or rather, what lies beneath Avalonia.

“Strange World” is in Boston theaters Nov. 23.

Searcher Clade (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a humble farmer who just so happens to have a statue of himself in the town square. He’s the son of Avalonia’s most famous resident, Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid), the roughest, toughest hombre to ever explore unchartered lands. When “Strange World” opens, he and 16-year old Searcher are on a quest to scale the mountains of Avalonia. Since no one has successfully completed this mission, Jaeger takes it as a personal challenge.

Clockwise from foreground center: Meridian Clade, voiced by Gabrielle Union; Searcher Clade, voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal; Jaeger Clade, voiced by Dennis Quaid; Callisto Mal, voiced by Lucy Liu; and Ethan Clade, voiced by Jaboukie Young-White in a scene from the animated film "Strange World."Disney via AP

A falling out between father and son ensues. Botany-loving Searcher wants to stop and investigate a glowing green plant that gives off energy. Jaeger can only think about mountain climbing. When he’s overruled the rest of his team, Jaeger storms off toward his goal, only to mysteriously disappear.


After fast-forwarding 25 years, “Strange World” reveals the reason for Searcher’s statue. It seems the fruit of that glowing plant, which he nicknames “pando,” is a power source so robust that it modernized Avalonia. Everything runs on pando, a sustainable and renewable energy that doesn’t harm the planet. Clade Farms, the family business Searcher runs with his teenage son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), and wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), is the primary distributor of this life-altering product. Ethan’s job is delivering pando to customers; that is, when he’s not swooning over the cute boy in his gamer group.


Unfortunately, pando plants are being ravaged by some kind of parasite — blast you, Mother Nature! — and it appears the problem starts at the root of the plant. President of Avalonia, Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu), asks Searcher for help, even though he doesn’t share his father’s penchant for exploring. He goes along anyway, and, of course, “Strange World” finds a way to involve Meridian, Ethan, and even Jaeger on this fantastic voyage. Searcher soon realizes Ethan shares his grandfather’s obsession.

Ethan (left), voiced by Jaboukie Young-White, with Splat, in a scene from the animated film "Strange World."Disney via AP

Clearly, “Strange World” is a movie about saving the environment. It is also about the bond between father and son, and how parents must let their kids forge their own paths. Hall and Nguyen deliver these messages with the subtlety of a wrecking ball, but the excellent voice-over work plus the score by Henry Jackman make the preachiness palatable and the film fun. The look of Avalonia’s underworld is a lovely distraction; its garish and bright pinks, reds, and greens look lifted from the colored roofs of a suburban New Jersey neighborhood in the 1970s.

“Strange World” also resides in a universe where an interracial family like the Clades can exist without commentary, and where their son can have an adolescent crush on another boy without incident. Disney always makes a big deal about the microscopic crumbs of representation it throws at the LBGTQ+ community, but at least this time the character’s queerness gets more than just a cursory mention.




Directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen. Written by Nguyen. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, and Jaboukie Young-White. At AMC Boston Common 19, Regal Fenway & RPX, and suburbs. 102 min., PG (enough action to keep the kids out of your hair)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic. He can be reached at odie.henderson@globe.com.