There’s a curious moment in Cryptozoo that might inspire a few quick mental calculations. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on 29th January 2021. This was a mere 23 days after the attack on the US Capitol Building on 6th January 2021. So the fact that a character wistfully recalls a dream in which the Capitol is stormed as the first step to creating a wondrous new society? It’s simply a strange, somewhat unfortunate coincidence for this animated film.
Lauren Grey (Lake Bell) is a veterinarian and cryptozoologist. It’s her mission to track down cryptids – or creatures that don’t exist, according to the mainstream consensus (like unicorns, dragons, krakens, etc). Although she wants to offer these beings sanctuary in a cryptozoo located outside San Francisco, she’s up against Nicholas (Thomas Jay Ryan), who wants to capture and weaponise the cryptids for the US military. After all, it’s 1967 and that nasty business in Vietnam only seems to be getting worse.
Parents should not be lulled into thinking that an animated film with a plot that vaguely sounds like a companion piece to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is suitable for children. In any event, the nudity and weirdly tranquil animated orgy early in the story should put that theory to bed. While Cryptozoo is visually arresting, the impressive animation regularly overshadows the modest ambitions of its storytelling. It’s all rather morose, and isn’t anywhere near as much fun as its premise suggests.
Even though filmmakers Dash Shaw and Jane Samborski attempt some broad commentary (American imperialism, the inevitable ideological compromises that result from working in a capitalist system), it’s almost as though there’s a timidity to their approach. They acknowledge some interesting ideas without exploring them in a way that would add texture and depth to their production. Cryptozoo looks sublime, with animation that manages to be both rough-hewn and fascinatingly intricate. It’s easy to imagine the piece becoming a late-night favourite with viewers who might enjoy its visual splendour after smoking a joint or two – quite possibly with the sound off.
Cryptozoo is released digitally on demand on 22nd October 2021.
Watch the trailer for Cryptozoo here: