SUNDANCE 2021: ‘Cryptozoo’ Could Have Been An Adventure

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Cryptozoo

The feature films showcased at the Sundance Film Festival push the boundaries of filmmaking. These entries are genre-defying examples of totally unique cinema, spanning fiction and non-fiction. Cryptozoo certainly fits in with the other films in its category as an innovative, envelope-pushing example of animation. Yet, while the film is certainly a looker it lacks the clarity required to elevate it as a piece of storytelling.

Cryptozoo is the creation of directing-screenwriting-animating triple threat Dash Shaw and features the voice talents of Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Angeliki Papoulia. In Cryptozoo, army brat Lauren (Lake Bell) becomes dedicated to the cause of locating and rescuing cryptids — creatures not recognized by the scientific world, from myths and urban legends to the abnormal — after a friendly Baku devours the nightmares that plagued her as a child. Lauren joins the efforts of a cryptid conservationist to help create the titular Cryptozoo as a place where cryptids can live in peace and gradually gain the acceptance of humans. When young lovers Amber and Matt get lost in the woods they stumble upon the zoo and scale the security perimeter, setting off a strange chain of events in the process. As characters cross unlikely paths, Lauren begins to question everything she ever thought she knew about cryptids.

Regrettably, I have no greater means of describing my feelings on Cryptozoo than simply feeling mixed. With its acid trip animation and very granola sentimentality, Cryptozoo immediately takes itself out of the realm of passive viewing and creates a duality. This film is either your bag or it is not. For me, it was not.

On paper, Cryptozoo has all the promise of a fantastical and mind-blowing animated adventure. The film promises a host of remarkable creatures and the daring mission to rescue them. On the matter of the cryptids themselves, Cryptozoo delivers. The animation style is unique and just breathtaking. The craftsmanship and design of the entire film are immediately evident and you can’t deny that Cryptozoo is a beauty.  This is showcased to its best effect in the variety of lovely creature designs. Cryptozoo pulls influence from all corners of the world and is populated by creates from every mythology. The cryptids come in a swath of incredible designs, pulling from each of those global influences. It’s a Bosch-esque masterwork of colorful chaos and it works!

Unfortunately, an action-packed adventure is not quite what we get. For all of its massive and mythical possibility, the scope of Cryptozoo feels incredibly small. The pacing is slow and at times it feels like the film is getting tangled up in its own prose. The beautiful writing is a weight around the narrative and the film ultimately suffers. The scenes feel disjointed and lacking in focus.

Cryptozoo delves into the arguments of conservation versus exploitation, idealism versus naivete, and assistance versus control. It’s to the film’s credit that it is able to turn inward with its criticism and challenge the “hold hands and sing Kumbaya” ideology. That being said, Cryptozoo isn’t exactly clear and consistent on its actual stance on these issues. In fact, some of what it portrays is straight-up problematic. Can a sexual relationship even be consensual between a cryptid and an elderly woman, especially when one is the captor and the other is rehomed to her sanctuary? These are the questions that Cryptozoo cannot answer and it’s hard to look past.

Cryptozoo is difficult to place. The animation is striking, the premise enchanting, but it is ultimately failed by the execution. A film that drinks its own Kool-Aid to the point of really turning off a viewer. I can’t help but mourn the loss of the adventure this could have been.

Cryptozoo premiered on January 29 at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Cryptozoo
  • 3/10
    Rating - 3/10
3/10

TL;DR

Cryptozoo is difficult to place. The animation is striking, the premise enchanting, but it is ultimately failed by the execution. A film that drinks its own Kool-Aid to the point of really turning off a viewer. I can’t help but mourn the loss of the adventure this could have been.