Review by Daniel Blackaby November 23, 2022
Strange World (Christian Movie Review)
Verdict: Strange World is a mixed-bag, featuring stunningly beautiful visuals, a good-but-not-great story, and a front-and-center message about exploring sexuality.
About The Movie
Disney is back and ready to transport audiences to strange new worlds. Strange World is an original story featuring a talented voice cast.The most obvious comparison is to Pixar’s Lightyear, which released earlier this year and sparked much debate. Strange World is also a science-fiction story that seems destined to ignite some of the same controversy. From top to bottom, Strange World is a vastly superior film to Lightyear, but it also leans more heavily into the other film’s most controversial element (namely, its LGBTQ storyline). As such, I suspect it will be an equally divisive film.
We’ll examine the sexuality component below, but let’s begin with the movie itself, since there is much to commend and appreciate. This film is a visual feast. In fact, Strange World may be the most stunning and beautifully animated movie I’ve ever seen. Almost every frame is bursting with vibrant colors and staggeringly intricate details. There are delightful moments in which the animators are just showing off, whether it’s the popping grease bubbles while characters cook or the finely detailed textures. The animation also showcases creativity through its stylization, particularly when several scenes morph into a more classic, hand-drawn 2D aesthetic. Regardless of what viewers feel about any other elements of the story, there is no question that Strange World is a great visual accomplishment.
The story itself doesn’t manage to reach the same heights as the visuals, although it is entertaining with some interesting ideas. As with Lightyear, this film is seemingly not aimed exclusively at younger viewers and instead attempts to deliver a quality science-fiction story for all ages. There are some fascinating twists near the end and exploration of some intriguing sci-fi concepts.
At the same time, the story is never as fun as it should be. The alien-like creatures that fill the “strange world” are terrifying, making them an intimidating threat. But the action scenes lack the energy or invention of the visuals. The movie is also noticeably short on humor, and the jokes it includes don’t always work. The family dog is loveably useless and responsible for almost all the laughs. But for the most part, the movie plays fairly straight. Also, the inter-generational family drama (see themes below) results in some meaningful character growth and lessons but will likely appeal more to adults than to younger viewers.
In the end, Strange World is an entertaining science-fiction story with beautiful visuals and a front-and-center LGBTQ romantic subplot. Lightyear is a suitable comparison (though that film’s LGBTQ subplot was largely only present in one early scene, whereas in Strange World it is throughout, making it inseparable from the rest of the film). Disney, and Hollywood in general, is clearly committed to telling more inclusive stories that reflect the prevailing attitude and values of the world. As with all entertainment, Christian audiences will need to determine for themselves how to approach it.
On the Surface
Violence: A character is pulled from from the ship by a creature and never seen again (presumably killed).
Sexuality: Sixteen-year-old Ethan is clearly depicted as a gay character. In an early scene, he and his crush Diazo engage in what his other friends call “cute flirtation.” While Diazo only appears in that one scene, in multiple later scenes, Ethan discusses his feelings for him and is largely driven forward on the adventure by his desire to do something that will impress him. Other characters, such as his grandfather and mother, offer him romantic council. See the “themes” section below for more.
Other: A beverage, presumed to be alcoholic, appears in a scene.
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
Much of the media coverage leading up to the movie’s release has focused almost exclusively on the significance of the teen character’s sexuality. While Lightyear was controversial for including a same-sex kiss and marriage, in Strange World, the sexuality conversation is inseparable from the story, which unfolds as somewhat of a loose allegory. In a sense, the “strange world” comes to represent the wider possibilities of sexuality.
This framework is most clearly established through a conversation between Ethan and his mother. After discussing his crush on Diazo, she notes that Ethan has seemed different since he began exploring the strange world. He responds that he feels the most like himself. To this, his mother says, “Keep exploring those feelings. They might just lead you down some interesting paths.” The scene is framed in such a way as to draw a parallel between the two conversations. The implication is that Ethan will be most himself by exploring and embracing the sexuality some may see as strange.
The ending lines in the film summarize this concept. In a voice-over, paraphrased here, Ethan says something to the effect of, “The world has changed and continues to change. You can’t live in the past. We’re moving forward. We’re not there yet, but the best legacy we can give is preparing a better future.” In a metaphorical sense, the movie suggests that the “strange world” is not so strange after all, and the established world cannot remain trapped in the past but must adapt to incorporate wider possibilities.
The film focuses on three generations of a family and shows how each must come to love and respect the other, despite their differences. The theme is perhaps most aimed at older audiences, as Ethan’s father and grandfather work through their long-harbored resentment and misunderstandings. While Ethan’s dad resents his own father and has sought to be a completely different type of parent to Ethan, the journey exposes how he has perpetuated many of the same problems, namely pushing his son to conform to his expectations and desires rather than getting to know what Ethan desires for himself. The film places most of the responsibility on the shoulders of the older generation to adapt to the younger, but echoes the biblical exhortation, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Strange World demonstrates that a healthy family requires each member to embrace both what makes them similar and what makes them different from each other.