Disney’s latest “animated classic” seems to have been designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, as it borrows from many film genres and brings together an eclectic cast of characters. Avalonia: A Strange World skilfully mixes a Jules Verne adventure story, the codes of “space westerns” and universal remarks on the family and the environment.
“Avalonia” is also the name of the planet where Searcher Clade lives peacefully with his family, until the day when “Pando”, a kind of living plant-based fertilizer that had previously guaranteed the success of his crops , begins to wither. Pando was originally discovered and brought to Avalonia by Jaeger, Searcher’s father. An illustrious explorer, he disappeared years ago, leaving alone on an expedition from which he never returned.
Because Pando is weakening and Searcher, a farmer, must guarantee the survival of his community, he goes on an expedition under the surface of Avalonia, in search of the source of the magic fertilizer. Accompanied by a small group of researchers, as well as his wife, his son, and their very friendly dog, Searcher finds his father when he arrives at the center of Avalonia. Old family conflicts then come to disturb their perilous mission.
Universality and representation
The affinities with Jules Verne are fully accepted by the film crew, who say they were inspired by Journey to the Center of the Earth. As when reading this epic of the 19e century, we like to discover, one scene after another, all the possibilities of the fantastic universe that is Avalonia, sometimes hostile, sometimes charming, but always magnificently inventive. Disney has not lost the art of marveling.
Besides, you don’t have to be a science fiction fanatic to appreciate Avalonia: a strange world. As the story unfolds, the plot rests less on the adventure of the expedition than on the intricate bonds that unite the members of the Clade camp. Conceived as a benevolent romantic comedy punctuated with action movie twists, Avalonia questions universal themes such as emancipation from the expectations of one’s parents, or even, paradoxically, the importance of transmission between generations.
“We wanted to represent a world in which [tous] could recognize each other, ”confirmed Qui Nguyen, co-director and screenwriter, at a press conference. It’s also why the film’s cast of characters is so “diverse,” as Mr. Nguyen puts it. Several cultural communities and sexual minorities are represented. Searcher’s son, Ethan, is notably mixed-race and gay. This is the first gay protagonist in a Disney film, and his orientation is normalized rather than treated as an issue to be overcome.
Disney’s Political Cinema
The children who will see the film – they remain its target audience – will undoubtedly be transported by its incessant adventures and its dreamlike visual universe. The adults who bring them to the movies, however, might be annoyed by Disney’s overt desire to politicize every element of the narrative.
“I was thinking about my kids and the world they’re going to inherit,” director Don Hall said. The film also reflects, he says, on “how one becomes a good ancestor”. With the quest of its characters revolving around the preservation of nature and harvests, Avalonia ostensibly bears witness to ecological concerns.
So far, so good. So much the better if young Disney audiences can be made aware of climate change through cinema. The problem ofAvalonia – and this will especially annoy adults – comes rather from the fact that the dialogues are sorely lacking in subtlety in the way they convey their messages. Certain remarks – on openness to others, on the environment, on the family – are repeated over and over again as if to ensure that we need to understand them better.
At the very end of the film, for example, Ethan sends a letter to his father which is read aloud and acts as a moral, when many previous scenes have already suggested the same point of view. “Even if we can’t live like in the past, we give ourselves better chances for the future,” he writes, before implying that everything will be fine.
We perceive an optimistic, even too idealistic view of the state of our world in the face of climate change. But perhaps today’s children need to be reminded of this kind of morality to avoid descending into eco-anxiety before they are even old enough to go to school. If this is the case, they should quickly go and see Avaloniawhich remains a universal, endearing work, and as usual at Disney, very entertaining.