By Adam Ray Palmer
Sometimes, the random and the “unusual” is welcomed in a festival programme; and I think Cryptozoo is just that for the Berlinale this year.
Dash Shaw, director and animator, returns with his second feature film Cryptozoo after his 2016 debut, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.
When you think of animation, you would be forgiven in assuming the likes of Disney and Pixar perhaps. The big budget CGI masterpieces such as Coco or Toy Story are immediate go-tos for me, but when it comes to Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo, it’s a sight to behold. The animating here is one of hand-drawn expertise, creating imagery extremely hypnotic as the narrative unfolds.
Cryptozoo is a tenacious and fantastical parable designed to pit humanity against, well, just a few humans. Set around 1967 California, amidst the nation’s youth practicing free love and protesting against the establishment and the Vietnam War, the central protagonist Lauren (Lake Bell) sets out on a mission to rescue mythological creatures in San Francisco.
Lauren is racing against the US Military to find the elusive Baku, a Japanese dream-eating cryptid, as the latter want to use the creature to suppress the anti-Vietnam War movement by dream-eating those who go against the regime. I mean, it sounds like an exaggerated Pokémon movie and to be honest, it could well be that. Replace Lauren with Ash Ketchum and the Military with Team Rocket, you have yourselves a sequel!
For the 90 minutes Cryptozoo echoes around your mind, I literally have no idea whether it massively dragged or zoomed by. As the narrative could be better served as a quirky short, I am guessing the former. Shaw’s movie is an enormous psychedelic and transgressive trip as we wrestle with the hero and anti-hero plot line. The colourful and underground comic style of animation simply presents itself like a hallucination.
Cryptozoo plays out quite meek and mild to me, apart from a few stellar sequences, there isn’t a lot of note here. In the opening ten minutes before the credits begin, Lake Bell’s Lauren and Michael Cera’s Matthew have wild, dream-like sex before fighting a unicorn, ending with the demise of Matt in obvious fashion. Now that of course perked my interest, but the following eighty minutes just tails off.
If it wasn’t for Bell’s earnest voice performance and the unusual yet talented animation effects, Cryptozoo would be a movie I wouldn’t revisit in the future. Whilst I wasn’t in love with the peculiar feature, it certainly wasn’t a nightmare. The intriguing, dreamy visuals alone deserve a second viewing on a big screen.
Cineroom’s rating: 2.5 stars
Cryptozoo had its world premiere at the Berlinale on 3rd March 2021 and is released later in the year.