It’s safe to say our world is in crisis. Whether it’s breaking out of a global pandemic, financial woes, or environmental concerns, we must ask ourselves: who is out there saving the cryptids?
This fanciful question has been answered by animator Dash Shaw in his latest film, Cryptozoo. This could only be described as Jurassic Park meets Fantastic Planet, by way of international folklore. It’s the embracing of world myth that brings this colourful spectre to life. The hand-drawn feel gives multiple psychedelic encounters, comparable to the lavish, contoured detailing of artists like Tamara de Lempicka and Daniel Johnston. It’s a kaleidoscope of hurling visuals, eloquent scene changes and a kick-ass attitude to animal conservation.
The cast of Cryptozoo is some familiar voices and new discoveries. The lead is Lake Bell in a stern, neutral stance as Lauren Grey, the scientist saving these cryptids from government exploitation. Though specifically, it is the Baku, a Japanese creature who consumes nightmares that is a driving force of the film, as Lauren attempts to find the one from her childhood.
Michael Cera and Louisa Krause are lovers Matthew and Amber, who trigger the events of the film in the bizarre, yet loving opening. Cera is decent and Krause, going through a hell of a lot, impresses, and is seen again at the finale. Emily Davis plays Pliny, a passionate, snake-haired gorgon of Greek myth. There is an eastern European vibe via her accent, and some Russian visuals also crop up. (I could have sworn I saw a Firebird in a few scenes.)
Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie is Joan, the big cheese of cryptid care – the one to make sure as many as possible make it to their ethical zoo. The baddie for the show is Nicholas, voiced by a stimulating Thomas Jay Ryan – a typical military sort, rounding up any creatures he can get his hands on.
Whilst the story of Cryptozoo is mostly by-the-numbers, it’s the almost shy, unassuming visuals that pull you in. The animated walk-cycles and lip-flaps may appear clunky, though one feels this is a deliberate choice, adding to the rustic feel of the whole film. Composer John Carrol Kirby complements the experience with a subtle atmosphere, never overbearing, yet always welcome. I sense a cult classic on our hands.
Dir: Dash Shaw (15, 95 mins)
Streaming now on MUBI
words JAMES ELLIS
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