I make no apology for pitching my tent and training my binoculars on Disney+ in recent weeks; sure, Disney is an important company when it comes to the cinematic box office, and the recent Bob swap, with Iger returning to replace Chapek, feels like it might be the significant sea-change of 2022. Why? Somewhat similarly to the change of heart at Warners/HBO, it looks like streaming just might no longer be the unique holy grail, the be-all-and-end-all of all current media. Cinema box-office was previously shared with distributors, cinema chain owners and so on, and required large advertising outlay, while streaming is pure income and provided a much required panacea to shore up books ravaged by Covid19. So while the huge flop of Strange World may not be a good thing, it’s an ill wind that blows no good at all…Disney needs to retain their touch for cinema, and a failure to launch might just put some iron in the blood…
So change is required for a company that released sure-fire hits straight to streaming (Pinocchio) while expensive, unknown IP like Strange World went straight to empty cinemas; Don Hall’s adventure story takes inspiration from Jules Verne and others, but it’s also a rather bland and featureless narrative that relies heavily on a twist about twenty minutes from the end. In the mysterious kingdom of Avalonia, a father explorer Searcher Clade (Dennis Quaid) deserts his son Jaeger Clade (Jake Gyllenhall) and vanishes for 25 years while exploring the edge of their kingdom. By the time father and son are re-united, Jaeger has a son of his own, a 16 year old who wants to be different from his father, and has a clear LGBT+ orientation….
As with Lightyear, the censorious right wing in America have been quick to criticise Disney for forcing unreconstructed wokeness on audiences, but while all relationships should be part of potential narratives, both Lightyear and Strange World wouldn’t be much better without the LGBT+, which feels shoehorned into a traditional narrative where sexual orientation is hardly an essential element. Spoiler alert; Strange World eventually justifies its title with a dramatic narrative twist in which Avalonia itself turns out to be inside the body of a giant turtle, making their actions as explorers subject to the living eco-system of an larger environment. It’s an awesome way of getting kids to understand the importance of respecting the world around them; it’s just a shame that not that many kids are likely to see it.
Strange World is a big, expensive, expansive animation, and some of the size and scale of the action is a delight to behold. But Disney should be able to create its own original IP, rather than constantly borrow or buy other people’s (Star Wars, Marvel), and it’s about time Disney prioritised back their crown as film-makers and dream-tellers and stopped sacrificing their brand to have a busy monetised platform. Cinema, not a streaming platforms, is where dreams are made, and Disney would be better to stop maximising their profits, cut the civics lectures and get back to their day job of thrilling kids of all ages.