Disney takes a trip into the wild beyond of Strange World on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The film is a blend of sci-fi genre conventions and ideas wrapped in a family melodrama that makes impressive strides with inclusivity and representation - but works entirely too hard to be hip and entertaining undercutting its lasting impact. But it looks amazing in 4K with a respectable Atmos track to match. Worth A Look
Wherever there’s an unknown land that needs discovering, you can bet the Clades are on their way. Led by the brash explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quade) and with his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal)in tow, they set out to breach the gargantuan mountains surrounding their home of Avalonia. But when the expedition goes bad and Jaeger goes missing, Searcher is held up as a hero for discovering a mysterious plant that could solve all of Avalonia's energy needs. But when all of the crops start dying off, the reluctant explorer and a new team of adventurers with his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) will have to travel into the depths of their planet discovering a shockingly expansive subterranean world the likes of which no one has ever seen before.
Sometimes to create something new and fresh and exciting, you have to reach back to the old stuff that worked so well. For Strange World, directors Don Hall and Qui Nguyen pull inspiration from a variety of classic science fiction sources to create a wildly inventive universe. Take a dash of Lost in Space, a smattering of Forbidden Planet, a pinch of Fantastic Voyage with a healthy dose of the writings of Edgar Rice Burrows, and a smidge of Terry Pratchett for extra flavor and you have yourself a movie! Now you just need characters and a story.
At the heart of Strange World is a story about fathers and their expectations of their sons. Dennis Quade’s Jaeger is so blinded by his own motivations and goals that he doesn’t see that Searcher doesn’t want his life and can be useful in other ways. Likewise, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Searcher sees his life as a humble farmer as fulfilling as he gets to contribute to the world and also raise his son in a loving family environment. But he also fails to see his son’s own unique ambitions. I loved this material. It was well conceived and as a father with a young son, I found it very impactful.
I also really appreciated that this movie managed to find a way of presenting race and gender representation somewhat naturally. There are a couple of clunky parts, but overall it was a fine effort since it’s an aspect of the characters without it being their single reason for being in the film. Searcher’s relationship with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) while Ethan’s pinning for Diazo (Jonathan Melo) worked and gave the film some of its brief few moments of natural comedy. It’s when the film is trying to be too entertaining that it gets into trouble.
Disney films typically have an energy to them that flows and turns effortlessly. They’ll find their groove and just roll. There are gags and laughs aplenty but also heart and drama to the shenanigans. Strange World struggles every time it tries to be funny, and it tries a lot. The world design humor like Jaeger teaching Ethan to use a bagpipe-like flamethrower is great. It’s a funny look and hilarious concept moment, but it also highlights some character beats between the generations of fathers and their respective sons. That’s subtle humor and its genuinely funny. When it’s actually working at being funny - which is most of the time - the humor falls painfully flat. Gyllenhaal is a fine actor in the real world, one of the best of his generation, but funny fatherly banter voice acting isn’t his strong suit as he’s often the weak link in the comedy chain. If the film had been played a little more seriously I think it’d been far more successful with audiences. The near-constant “Yuk yuk” jokes just don’t jibe with this film’s vibe.
Given a lot of the internet hoopla surrounding this film, I was expecting an outright disaster. Strange World is certainly a clunky piece of work, but it passes the time well enough. I loved the design of the universe this film builds and it has a big heart in the right place. If it had just stuck with its best pieces of character-driven science-fiction adventure, it’d been amazing. But every time it got distracted working overdrive to add humor to scenes that didn’t need it, it stumbled. And this film has some pretty badly bruised knees for its stumbles.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Disney brings their latest creation to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. True to the Disney formula the 4K disc occupies a BD-66 while the 1080p scores a BD-50. The discs are housed in a standard black two-disc case with slipcover. The discs load to Disney’s typical language menu with the option of skipping right to the film or going to the main menu.
As they have with all of their animated features, Disney once again delivers a beautiful HDR10 2160p transfer that easily bests its 1080p counterpart. Refinements in detail for the animated characters, the world they occupy, and the tools and equipment they use are immediately clear. A hell of a lot of fun design work went into this film and you can appreciate that effort in every frame. Fine lines are tight and clear and the whole show looks beautiful.
HDR10 adds some extra highlights for the film’s robust color palette. Primaries get their time to shine with bold reds, blues, and yellows while keeping things earth-tone-friendly for the surface world, but then everything switches up in the underworld. Shading for these colors picks up extra nuance and gradience not seen in the standard HD presentation. The black levels are also greatly improved for some of the more dramatically lit moments later in the film that I’m not going to mention because it’s a lot of spoilers. One nice highlight HDR gave this presentation is a little extra nuanced glow to the energy-producing Pando plant. All around a great transfer for a visually impressive little flick.
Also in keeping with Disney’s methods, the 4K of Strange World picks up a pretty decent Dolby Atmos track while the Blu-ray rolls with a solid but less impactful DTS-HD MA 7.1 track. I still don’t get why they do this, but that’s how it goes I guess. Overall as far as Atmos tracks go, this one is pretty good for Disney. It didn’t have the limpness I experienced with Wakanda Forever and actually gave the track a much more dynamic surround presence with some welcome object-specific height activity. Throughout the film the dialog was clean and clear without issue. The great Henry Jackman score added a lot of heft and wonder making it feel like an old-fashioned adventure film while filling out the soundscape nicely. LFE may be a bit muted at times, but there’s some good rumble in the subs when it counts. Really my only complaint here was I felt the need to keep my volume up a bit higher past my normal reference point. Comparatively the 7.1 track on the Blu-ray is pretty good on its own, but just doesn’t offer the same punch. Dialog is clean and it’s an active mix, but it also felt a tad hollow to me.
Again Disney didn’t populate this release with a ton of bonus features, but what’s here is pretty good. Not sure why you’d watch extras for a movie you haven’t seen yet, but be warned they’re pretty spoiler heavy as they dive into the various workings behind the making of the film, biology of the world in Strange World, and a few deleted scenes. All extras are found on the Blu-ray. None are on the 4K disc.
Strange World is a marvel of design offering a unique universe that pulls from multiple references in science fiction and fantasy. The story of a family trying to save their world is heartfelt, but the film’s need for forced silliness undercuts its best efforts. The film is at its best when it’s out there exploring. It’s at its worst when it’s desperately trying to make you laugh. Disney delivers a worthwhile 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release with a strong HDR10 transfer and an active Atmos track. Bonus features are a bit of a miss but the Mouse House hasn’t been putting in much effort there lately so that shouldn't be a surprise. At the very least it's Worth A Look