Critics are loving Disney’s new movie with a gay teen character “Strange World”

Ethan in Disney's 'Strange World'
Ethan in Disney's 'Strange World' Photo: Screenshot

Disney’s latest animated feature, Strange World, opens in theaters today. The sci-fi adventure film follows a biracial family of explorers as they navigate a treacherous land filled with bizarre and dangerous creatures and try to combat an environmental disaster.

Strange World is notable for including the first openly gay teen character, Ethan (voiced by out comedian and actor Jaboukie Young-White), in a Disney movie. This fact has already led to calls from anti-LGBTQ groups to boycott the entertainment giant.

Aside from the predictable blowback from One Million Moms and other right-wing commentators, what are actual movie critics saying about Strange World?

AV Club’s Matthew Huff praised the film as “the queer version of Disney magic we’ve been waiting for.”

“The beauty of Strange World is that director Don Hall and writer Qui Nguyen, the team behind the under-appreciated Raya And The Last Dragon, never make Ethan’s queerness the issue,” writes Huff. “It is central to his character and the film’s plot, but this is not a coming-out narrative. Rather, everyone in Avalonia refreshingly seems to take queerness as a non-issue.”

In her review for The New York Times, Beatrice Loayza called the film “a modern, intercultural fantasia.”

“The screenwriter Qui Nguyen thoughtfully integrates a diverse cast, strong female characters and different kinds of masculinity,” Loayza writes, in a climate change allegory that explores “the difficulty of collaboration in the face of entrenched beliefs and ways of navigating the world that, ultimately, must be questioned — if not entirely dismantled — if any one of us expects to stick around.”

Writing for The New York Post, reviewer Johnny Oleksinski raved about the film’s “mesmerizing” visual style and world-building, calling Strange World “a sweet, science-fiction family film..that’s good fun.” But, he writes, “The tale itself is not quite so breathtaking as its aesthetic. The relationships could be more fraught and not so easily repaired. The setup is also too basic.

Variety’s Peter Debruge, however, called the film’s characters “some of the most realistic and well-rounded that Walt Disney Animation Studios has ever presented.”

“It’s the characters as much as the environment that make this vibrant, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’-style adventure movie colorful and diverse in all the best ways,” he writes.

The Guardian’s Cath Clarke was one of the few critics who found the film less than delightful. In her two-star review, she praised both the Strange World’s look and characters, but criticized its plot, which she found “so tangled it would take the entire Royal Geographical Society a decade to map out.”

“The clunky script feels like it’s been re-drafted and re-drafted to the point of incomprehension – blowing any chance of conveying a message,” Clarke writes. “However well-meaning, it makes for a surprisingly dull watch.”

Meanwhile, The Wrap’s Carlos Aguilar found the film’s message a bit heavy-handed. Strange World, he writes, “lacks restraint in how it communicates its themes, which are obvious from the opening sequence… for all the wonderfully weird entities and world-building — with the adorable Splat being the standout — the filmmakers are unable to cohesively merge the fanciful tone with the overbearing precepts they seek to impart.”

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