2021 Sundance Review: Cryptozoo

Director(s): Dash Shaw

Writer(s): Dash Shaw

Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Emily Davis

Synopsis: 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.

Any time a movie is weird or odd, people immediately compare it to doing drugs. I have seen lines like “It is like doing acid” or “an LSD trip” thrown around with so many films whenever a movie gets weird and tense at the same time. It is overused rhetoric of describing a film, especially when I doubt most people who are using it have never even done hard drugs. I am not saying this all to say I am exempt from this. I too have never experimented with hard substances, but I have used the saying in the past. I would be a hypocrite to call out this saying, but do it myself. I say all of this for one reason, Cryptozoo is definitively the first time I have ever watched a movie and truly felt like I was on some sort of trip or drug-induced paranoia that was both terrifying and beautiful to watch.

This film will not be for everyone, and for once I completely urge you to watch a clip or a trailer heading into it. Some might find it difficult to get into, but it truly becomes a moving piece of art if you allow it to be. The hand-drawn animation is mind-bendingly well done and I should have known after seeing the director in a kaleidoscope filter for the intro that I was in for a treat. Because truly that is what this film feels like, a kaleidoscope of flashing colors and dazzling effects that when looking through the glass you are completely trapped in a world of beauty and magic. If you watch this film for anything, it will be to completely dissolve yourself into this style of animation and to this insane world that Shaw has created.

However, just like a kaleidoscope, once you get past all of the beautiful colors and spectacles and come back to the real world you are left… disappointed. While the film itself was a beautiful sweeping art piece, the substance of the movie felt extremely paint by numbers. I did enjoy the critique on zoos. The dual aspects of wanting to preserve a creature, but at the cost of their freedom, was something that was very aware. It brought an empathetic look to zoos themselves, which was enough to make this work, but everything else felt formulaic and by the books. The use of incredible magical creatures was a nice touch, but I just couldn’t invest myself into the story as much as I wanted to. It felt repetitive at times, and while I think the animation was incredible, I believe it really attempted to mask any inconsistencies within the plot of the film.

With that being said, I would still recommend this if not as a movie so much as an experience. To engulf yourself in this world is to see the world through an artist that has a love and a clear vision for what he is doing. Even if his overall vision becomes a little muggy, the beauty of it is out on full display.

Final: Cryptozoo is the film equivalent of being trapped inside a kaleidoscope. The hand-drawn animation creates a drug-induced space that is so hypnotic and engrossing you can’t look away. At times this film can be a beautiful spectacle, but it can also feel like a paint by numbers in terms of where it is heading. Fairly formulaic, but the dialogue on zoos worked enough for me to enjoy this experience. I don’t know what Dash Shaw took while creating this idea, but I don’t want any of it. I’ll just trust his artistic vision.

My Score: B

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Johnny Dell’Angelo

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