Down into a giant sinkhole sinks “Strange World.” Literally.
It’s borne downward aboard a giant airship into a hodgepodge of bizarre and colorful imagery. Pinks prevail. And all manner of peculiar critters abound in this animated fantasy kiddie adventure from Disney.
Flying pinkish triangles zoom and swoop. Big rolling grayish balls sprout writhing tentacles. Peculiar-shaped beasties clomp on greenish feet. Masses of reddish not-really fish swarm. Great chunks of real estate float free. There’s a hint of “Avatar” in the widescreen visuals.
Strange those visuals are indeed. And overly busy, for sure.
In the midst of it all, people run and scream. Distraught and disoriented, for a while.
Then they get their bearings and a story of sorts unfolds. It’s a story about fathers and sons and how they don’t get along. Until they do.
A burly dad named Jaeger Clade bellows as he asserts his paternity: “You’re my son!” Prompting the rejoinder, also shouted by son Searcher Clade: “But I’m not you!” (There’s a lot of yelling in this story.)
Twenty-five years later, Searcher, now a father himself, similarly asserts his paternity. And his teen son Ethan responds, “I know I don’t want to be you!” What goes around comes around. And around and around the story goes.
Jaeger, bulky, wildly bearded and elaborately mustachioed, is voiced, gruffly, by Dennis Quaid. His son, slender with well-barbered whiskers, is voiced, rather plaintively, by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Ethan, an ebullient soul, is voiced by Jaboukie Young-White. The kid is gay, a fact so accepted by his dad and grandpa that it’s barely remarked upon. Searcher, upon seeing Ethan lovingly looking at his boyfriend, indulgently declares that he totally understands the discombobulating power of first crushes. The appeal of such a tale to red-state audiences is likely limited, judging by the controversy that erupted this year over the same-sex kiss in Disney’s “Lightyear.”
The picture, directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen (the latter also wrote the screenplay), takes place on two physical levels. The strange world of the title, reached via that sinkhole, is an underground fantasy land. On the surface, where Searcher resides, it’s a kind of leftish utopia.
Ethan is the offspring of an ecstatically loving interracial couple (Gabrielle Union voices Meridian, the mom, who is a hotshot crop-duster pilot). The parents’ smoochy ways — kitchens are for kissing — drive Ethan to embarrassed distraction.
Searcher is a farmer who raises a distinctive green glowing plant called pando that provides seemingly limitless clean energy, which powers Avalonia, the topside civilization that is home to the Clades.
A disease is killing the pando crop at its roots, so Searcher heads underground to try to find the source. And there he discovers the strange world. And there discovers, too, his father, missing for 25 years after Jaeger abandoned his family on a quest to find a way over the mountains encircling Avalonia.
That abandonment fuels Searcher’s resentment of the older man. And Jaeger is none too pleased to learn his son is a farmer. Jaeger is an adventurous fellow who is fond of flamethrowers and scorns Searcher whose preferred tool is a hoe. Ethan thinks the flamethrower is hot stuff and that appalls his papa.
And so it goes. Many are the heart-to-hearts among the males as they try to sort through their interpersonal issues.
The uneasy marriage of clunky psychodrama and overwrought special effects along with the fact that none of these characters are particularly likable make “Strange World” a chore to sit through.