Legend, the three-legged dog in Disney's Strange World, is an exceptionally good boy. He's also a solid representation of the charm at the heart of this CGI animated movie -- the 61st in the studio's history -- that hit theaters in November and came to Disney Plus on Friday.
Our canine friend belongs to the Clades, a family whose legacy as explorers was once celebrated in song. (Good luck getting opening tune "It's the Clades" out of your head.) The engaging introduction sequence establishes the movie's classic pulp adventure-inspired tone, with pig-headed family patriarch Jaegar (Dennis Quaid) setting out on a solo escapade and never returning.
A quarter of a century later, his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn't embrace the same type of bravery and is determined to live out his days as a farmer. Charming early scenes at home with his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) present us with a believable, loving family, especially as they roll their eyes at his dorkiness. It's all quite warm and fuzzy.
The CGI characters look incredible, with striking outfits and excellent hair -- the stray gray bristle in Searcher's beard is a particularly believable touch. Coupled with the vocal performances, you'll quickly get drawn into the Clades' lives. Quaid also breathes depth and charm into a character that could easily have been an obnoxious, one-dimensional blowhard.
As you'd expect, the family's idyllic world soon faces an existential threat that forces Searcher to return to his family's daredevil ways in an uncharted subterranean world. It also comes as no surprise when his more adventurous family tags along, with the dog in tow.
From here, Strange World shines in visually spectacular red and magenta hues -- every moment is a colorful treat for the eyes. It's like a fun version of the Quantum Realm seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but still dangerous and unpredictable.
The journey is punctuated with plenty of engaging action sequences, which shine through dynamic camerawork and editing. The abstract environment can occasionally make it hard to keep track of what's going on, so you'll have to pay close attention whenever the pace picks up. However, Henry Jackman's grandiose score adds the sense of wonder and discovery with its old-school John Williams vibes.
The explorer team also encounters a resident of this world in slimy blue blob Splat, who strikes up a friendship with the Clades. This little guy is unquestionably the standout character, the source of much of the fun sight gags and seems destined to be a beloved plush.
These fantastical elements are grounded by touching, relatable character dynamics. Ethan is among the first openly gay characters seen in an animated Disney movie, but thankfully his sexuality isn't a plot element. His family simply accepts him for who he is.
His determination to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become an explorer makes him grow more fascinating as the story progresses, especially since Ethan doesn't initially appear to be cut out for adventuring and his dad is firmly against it. Since Strange World lacks a traditional villain, this is the source of much of the movie's tension (along with the threat of stepping into some colorful beast's maw or flying into a wall of acid). It could do with a greater sense of menace.
The movie builds to a slightly busy final act, with the timely subtext diminished slightly by the overly complicated setup for the last big action sequence. At least the emotional stakes remain clear throughout: You'll be rooting for everyone to find happiness.
Disney's Strange World is a visual delight, with engaging action and a constant sense of wonder to draw you in. It's enhanced by rich characters, a clever script and one exceptionally good dog, making it an adventure the whole family will get on board with.