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Cryptozoo IMDB description: “Cryptozookeepers try to capture a Baku, a dream-eating hybrid creature of legend, and start wondering if they should display these beasts or keep them hidden and unknown.”
Why I took it off the list: Another offbeat animated entry at the 2021 Sitges Film Festival that I failed to catch at the event, I wasn’t sure what to make of Crytpozoo from the short descriptions and few publicity stills that I saw of it.
The crude illustration style of the stills I saw and the bizarre-sounding premise put me off a little, so I didn’t have it very high on my to-watch list. But after hearing great things about it from friends, I decided to give it a go.
(I also later realized that it was created by Dash Shaw, the same animator who made the highly acclaimed My Entire High School Sinking into to the Sea (2016), which I’ve had on my watch list for a long time but still haven’t got round to seeing!)
Review of Cryptozoo
Any reservations I had about the animation of Cryptozoo were blown apart soon into the running time. Although it starts out with a sort of rudimentary, monochromatic hand-drawn animated style that seems a bit basic, the film soon starts to add plenty of colors and surprising flourishes as it goes along and we are drawn further into a world where fantastical creatures are not only real, but the subject of clandestine poaching and black market trade.
The film deftly combines illustrations and cut-out animation to bring its incredible, amazingly creative menagerie of mythical beasts to life, and each of the many new cryptoids that the heroes encounter as the story goes on has a unique design and personality. The sheer colorful detail on display in some of the frames can sometimes be a bit of a sensory overload, but in general are engaging and incredible to look at.
Beyond Excellent Voice Casting
The creative visuals are well-matched by an inspired voice cast, including the talented Lake Bell as heroine Lauren Grey, a sympathetic and agreeably kick-ass figure who has made it her mission to seek out and rescue magical creatures after one with a particularly neat trick saved her from bad dreams as a child. Frequent Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator Angeliki Papoulia also makes a strong impression as an empathetic but strong-willed gorgon Grey is forced to partner up with on her mission.
The excellent voice casting also extends to the supporting roles, including David Lynch regular Grace Zabriske as Grey’s mentor Joan, and Michel Cera as a stoner hippie who has an unfortunate run-in with a unicorn near the start of the film.
The most brilliant choice, however, was casting Peter Stormare as a crafty, morally dubious fawn. As with his similarly slimy role as Luficer in Constantine (2005), the Swedish thesp totally nails it.
A Powerful Story, Though Definitely Not For Kids
Aside from the animation, one of the best reasons to watch Cryptozoo is the fascinating story. Set against a backdrop of 70’s counterculture, the film delves into themes including tolerance and the importance of striving to achieve dreams in the face of oppression.
It’s a story that kids could take a lot away from, but the film is most definitely not for kids. As with the similarly 70’s animation-inspired The Spine of Night (2021), there is plenty of blood and sometimes graphic violence sprinkled throughout the film, and F-bombs abound.
The decision to include these elements among such otherwise family-friendly animation and story elements is a little puzzling, as it leaves you with the impression that Shaw wasn’t exactly sure of the audience he was making the film for. But then again, they do match the animated trends of the period the film takes place in, and the narrative of Cryptozoo is one that many adults could take a lot of things away from too.
One thing is for sure: those who decide to check it out will be left with a lasting impression.
Final Score: 8/10
Worth Checking out?
Yes. The animation style and offbeat, sometimes very adult content of Cryptozoo won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the powerful story and sheer wealth of imagination on display make it a thought-provoking and very satisfying experience.
Written and directed by Dash Shaw