Cryptozoo

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Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Cryptozoo
"Its Jurassic Park style themes concerning failed Utopias passed through the prism of Sixties politics and activism have a certain childlike simplicity to them and, as such, are likely to prove more endearing to some audiences than others." | Photo: Johnny Dell'Angelo

Mythology and psychedelia come together in a trippy mix in the latest animation from My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea director Dash Shaw. With its sex and violence this is most certainly not for children, although its Jurassic Park style themes concerning failed Utopias passed through the prism of Sixties politics and activism have a certain childlike simplicity to them and, as such, are likely to prove more endearing to some audiences than others.

A prologue introduces us to the zoo of the title, after a couple of horny hippies, Amber (Louisa Kraus) and Matthew (Michael Cera) climb in over the fence and stumble upon a unicorn. The encounter does not end well for anyone. It turns out that the zoo is run by Lauren Grey (Lake Bell), a sort of explorer, drawn like a sturdy pre-Raphaelite, who is trying to rescue the various endangered cryptids - from the familiar kraken and blemmyes to less well-known mystical denizens - and especially wants to keep them out of the clutches of soldier Nicholas (Thomas Jay Ryan) and the US government, who intend to militarise them.

The story is a slight yarn, involving Lauren and her gorgon sidekick  (Angeliki Papoulia) trying to find a dream and nightmare-eating baku - a creature from Japanese mythology that looks akin to a baby elephant and here has an Indian art vibe. They're in a race against Nicholas, who has co-opted a faun named Gustav (Peter Stormare) to help.

This is, essentially, an excuse for Shaw and animation director Jane Samborski to let their imaginations run riot. An entire menagerie of cryptids is realised in eye-popping fashion, which makes it all the more of a shame it was forced to premiere on small screens in living rooms rather than on the big screen at Sundance. The film's animation has a kaleidoscopic feel, flowing from one idea to the next and as there's certainly never a dull moment as the blood begins to flow.

As this magical mystery tour flows on, there are sideswipes at the way idealism can become married to commercialism - it's surely no mistake that Cryptozoo is redolent of a Disney Park - and, as we return to themes that wouldn't be out of place in one of Walt's films, ideas around difference and acceptance. "Intelligence has nothing to do with appearance," someone points out, which given the places this animation is most likely to find a home after it's premiere, does feel a bit like preaching to the choir. That said, the choir are going to love it.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2021
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Cryptozoo packshot
As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown.

Director: Dash Shaw

Writer: Dash Shaw

Starring: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

Streaming on: MUBI


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