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THB #265: Strange World Review & Analysis
I finally got to see Strange World.
I’m not going to bother being coy with SPOILERS on this one. So if you don’t want the secrets exposed, it is probably time to check out. See you tomorrow.
Best animated film ever about a colonoscopy.
Not really… more like a cardiac catheterization.
The movie takes more than 2/3 of its running time to become the movie that should have been 2/3 of the movie. And that movie is Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 Richard Fleischer sci-fi movie about a ship and its crew miniaturized to enter a human body and save the life of a scientist. Most young men who see the film remember this first…
But Raquel Welch aside, it’s a very clever film in the effects era of Harry Harryhausen. Apparently, Art Cruickshank gets the main credit for the effects work on the now-classic film.
In the case of Strange World, the focus is on a hero explorer and his severed relationship with his son. As the explorer leaves his family, seeking the other side of the uncrossable mountain (defined by the film), his son finds an energy source that will serve the entire world in which they live. When that energy source is threatened, he goes on a journey that will, obviously, lead him back to his dad.
Meanwhile, he has a wife and a son, who happens to be in the blush of discovering his gayness. It’s an important moment for some. I didn’t much care and honestly, in the context of this film, it is given more screentime than any teen straight relationship would have gotten. It wasn’t a storytelling choice… as its not engaged in any other part of the storytelling. (Same, by the way, for the 3-legged dog, who never in limited in any way… so it just seemed to want to make a point, to me. And no, not comparing gay people to 3-legged dogs… stop it!)
So they enter the strange world, not miniturized because the strange world is huge, and start exploring. Father/Son conflicts from both pairings evolve.
Eventually, we get to the part I liked and wanted to see a lot more of… the son realizes, almost instinctually, that they are not in a strange world, but in some place that he should be protecting, not attacking. And then, the reveal. The Strange World opens his eye and the younger father and son pair see it.
So now, they go about trying to help the pink winged creatures which are, essentially, red blood cells in this creature, carrying blood all over the body. The heart of the animal, on which they have lived all these years, is crusted over and dying. The power drain back at home was the creature’s body taking all the energy to save itself.
The movie is beautiful from start to finish. There is a “comic book“ opening that is sensational and I truly believe if Disney has just released that 100 second opening as a trailer, it would have doubled its opening weekend (in part because the weekend was so weak). It still wouldn’t be my entire idea for marketing the movie. But when I saw it, it opened up my view of what the movie was 100% in less than 2 minutes.
But the idea of exploring a living creature from the inside is so much more interesting to me than the “fathers and son” story. That should, to me, have been the B story and the exploration of the strange world of a living being should have been the A. It is hard to imagine this movie getting to this place with John Lasseter in the daddy seat at Disney… not that I am advocating for him to be back. But there is so much good work in this film that this major misstep, in terms of balance, is really an unforced error.
Jake Gyllenhaal is fine as the lead, Searcher Clade. But nothing special. And the character looks like it was made for John Krasinski. Likewise, Dennis Quaid, who I love, but was given none of the Nicholson-esque manic energy that has been his signature for decades. Really, great cast, but none of them are doing anything that stands out.
But there is a movie here… it’s just unbalanced. It’s never horrible. It’s just not the kind of adventure where the audience is fully engaged because we never really know the lay of the land until the last 20 minutes or so. I love surprises, but this one was held too close to the vest.
And thus, the marketing trouble. I kind of understand why Disney was being coy with the material. If the movie saves something for late in the 3rd act, you kinda want to protect that. The filmmaker usually fights for that. But here, it was disatrous choice.
Marketing, especially for a new “original” title, needs to tell the story enough for the audience to know what’s coming.
The early funeral-heavy ads for Wakanda Forever were fine because not only had the audience seen the original, but it surely already knew about the loss of Chadwick Boseman. If we hadn’t, those ads would have not made sense. But we did, so those ads were fantastic.
I recently had an argument about the most recent Avatar: The Way of Water trailer. I felt that the argument that the movie was about this family was being made clear for the first time. The other person felt it had been laid in through all the marketing. And the person wasn’t completely wrong. But sometimes, the way to say it is just to say it. This trailer says, “This movie is about the characters we know and their children… yes, they are fighting for all the Na’vi… but now, their kids!” It also brings younger characters to the forefront, who were in other materials, but everyone is tall and blue and knowing who is who is challenging in a trailer. For me, the whole family on the hammock is the money shot.
If Disney had told us that Strange World was about conflicting fathers and sons who have to unlock the mystery of the strange world and that they were going to find something living that they might have to protect, I would have been much more interested in this film.
It’s not a movie for the little kids only…. but it is good for them. It’s less harsh than the filmmaker’s Big Hero 6 was, with dead family members at the core. It’s a marketable movie. But the story structure made it really hard.
And I will still say… the Chapek/Daniel era really discounted the value of the studio’s animation. If it weren’t Disney, the might be ok. But it’s Disney. They believed they got away with it on Encanto, which underperformed given its assets, to the extreme. They convinced the suckers in media that it was a triumph of streaming. But that was because they theatrical release failed to capitalized on the soundtrack before release, as they had before, and then pulled it from theaters when the box office might have exploded for another 2 or 3 months. A real misstep.
The movie deserved better. And the movie could have been better too… with the same wonderful talent that made it given just a bit of a push in another direction.
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