SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Painstakingly and carefully hand-drawn, Cryptozoo (2021) is an independent animated film that is visionary in its style and is quite unlike any animated film that I can recall having seen before. Directed and written by Dash Shaw, who created the beautiful but dangerous world of Cryptozoo, the film is further fleshed out by a cast of voice actors in pitch and personality perfect performances, including infamous voice actress Lake Bell (In A World, “Poison Ivy” of the Harley Quinn animated series), Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth), Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox).
In Cryptozoo, a couple goes into the woods to enjoy some romantic, drug-induced lovemaking, however, their wandering leads them to a compound that houses impossible and fascinating creatures. Working for a woman with a vision to build a sanctuary for all of the unloved animals of the world, a crypto-creature hunter named Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell) is determined to gather all the world’s cryptids in order to care for them in their zoo. When their good intentions become corrupted, they quickly lose control of their burgeoning zoo and any hopes of humans and mythical creatures coexisting.
Cryptozoo‘s animation style may seem minimalistic in detail and in the characters’ movements, but, at the same time, its style is far from simple, with meaningful and intelligent use of unexpected colors that were used to convey emotion in a medium that cannot rely on the subtle nuances of live-action facial expressions. Though often making use of negative white and black space, Cryptozoo is just colorful enough and just strange enough to come off as a psychedelic thriller. Its animation and story are so daring that it feels like it would fit right in with that late 70s/early 80s experimental period of animation and puppetry being used to tell adult stories, like in The Secret of Nimh (1982) or The Dark Crystal (1982).
Though Cryptozoo‘s dialogue and sound design all somehow felt like they should go with a live-action movie, animation was definitely the correct method of delivery for an epic, adventurous, and wondrous story like this–a live-action fantasy might have come off something verging on cheesy like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) in attempting to combine fantasy themes with modern trappings. The animation medium freed the movie to feature a plethora of different cryptids, some I have never even heard of, which should please anyone looking for something different from just another bigfoot or Mothman movie.
Cryptozoo‘s story could possibly be surmised as Jurassic Park (1993), except with unicorns and dragons in place of velociraptor and T-Rexes. It is the kind of monster movie that could be enjoyed by both non-believers and creature-feature enthusiasts, as it is not a movie that dedicates any time arguing nor asks the audience to believe one way or the other in the existence of the animals used in the movie, and only uses them in a matter of factly way to tell a thrilling story tinged with a political message. If like me you were a big fan of recent deeply dark adult animations like To Your Last Death (2015) and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2019), Cryptozoo is a must-see feature out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Adrienne Reese is a fan of movies - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and came to the horror genre by way of getting over her fear of... everything. Adrienne also writes for the Frida Cinema, and in addition to film enjoys cooking, Minesweeper, and binge-watching Game of Thrones.