Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Military brat turned Veterinarian Lauren (Lake Bell) helps Joan (Grace Zabriskie) take care of hidden mythical creatures called Cryptids at Joan’s Cryptozoo. The two dream of one day opening the zoo to create an understanding of these creatures. Lauren’s made it her mission to search for the Baku, a dream-eating Cryptid, that saved her from her tormented dreams as a child. When they find out the US Government might have captured the Baku with the intent to use her as a weapon against the counter-culture, Lauren sets out on a quest to save her.
Cryptozoo is a psychedelic animated journey that’s never been experienced before. The Film’s made for adult audiences, which is what makes the hand-drawn animation, by animation director Jane Samborski, more impactful. It creates nostalgia for an era of animation cinema and television that seems to be kept in the past. Additionally, it adds to the trippy vibe of the Film.
Director-Writer Dash Shaw has something to say about idealism, utopian dreams, and the effects of holding creatures captive within a zoo. Idealistic Lauren and Joan aim for the Cryptozoo to be a utopia for these magical beasts while being a place the public can learn they shouldn’t fear them. This thinking mimics the zoos we see that enclose animals today. If we draw parallels between the creatures and our animals, we see the inhumanity in zoos. Further, during the climactic scene, we understand that utopia shouldn’t be sought because it can rarely be achieved.
The voice work from its Ensemble Cast is great. Bell expresses Lauren grappling with the reality that these mystical creatures don’t want to be in cages. In the beginning, we get a trippy scene involving Amber and Matthew (Louisa Krause and Michael Cera). Although Cera is only in that one scene his comedic voice talents are memorable. While Krause commands an empathy along with anger in her voice.
Cryptozoo is a rare idiosyncratic film that’s a marvel to watch. At times it’s dark and funny while always being magical. And it comes with a reminder to stop fearing the things we don’t know or understand.
Cryptozoo screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 29 at 3 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): January 31 at 10 AM (EST)