Cryptozoo Gets Weird, Like Really Weird
Director: Dash Shaw
Category: Feature – NEXT
Award: NEXT Innovator Prize presented by Adobe
NEXT will always be my favorite category at Sundance because it gives weird films like Cryptozoo their very own moment to stand out. This animated feature made for adults is a wild and strange ride into the world of Cryptids, mythical creatures like unicorns and gorgons, as Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell) tries to save these fantastical beings and weighs the options of keeping them safe in her Cryptozoo or letting them hide around the world with the risk of being captured.
Cryptozoo starts out very weird, Amber (Louisa Krause) and her boyfriend Matthew (Michael Cera) go on a drug-fueled sex date in a forest, and stumble upon the fence of the Cryptozoo. Matthew decides to climb the fence, Amber reluctantly follows, and the two find a unicorn. The unicorn, frightened by Matthew stumbling away from it, kills Matthew with its horn, and Amber kills the unicorn out of fear, then is stuck inside the zoo naked with her dead boyfriend and the unicorn’s horn as her only defense (see, I told you it’s a weird start).
The film then takes us to meet Lauren Gray, owner of the Cryptozoo and Cryptid rescuer, in the middle of a mission to save a harpy and her egg from black market Cryptid traders. She fails in her mission, but ends up in a hospital where she finds out a mythical creature that saved her from her nightmares as a child, a Baku, has been located and becomes determined to save the Baku before the traders get to it. She departs on an adventure with a Gorgon (like Medusa) named Phoebe, first finding a Cryptid, Pliney, with information on the location of the Baku and taking him to the safety of the zoo where she gives Pliney and Phoebe a tour of the zoo. This seems like a weird sidestep in the story, to tour the zoo when Lauren wants to save the Baku, but much like the weird beginning of this film, it’s very intentional.
After visiting the Cryptozoo, Lauren and Phoebe venture to Kentucky where they find Nicholas (Thomas Jay Ryan), a black market Cryptid hunter who wants to sell the Cryptids to the U.S. government as bioweapons, is already in the town searching for the Baku. As Lauren and Phoebe search for the Baku, they find a fortune-teller who warns Lauren that finding and saving the Baku will cost her everything. The fortune-teller reveals she has the Baku, Lauren wants to save it, Nicholas shows up to steal it, and the rest of the film devolves into absolute chaos.
I don’t want to spoil this movie’s ending because it’s a very rewarding watch, every little detail gets paid off by the end of the movie, from the very weird intro to the tour of the Cryptozoo. No time on screen at any point in this movie was wasted even if it didn’t connect at first. While it takes a minute to fully engage with Cryptozoo, once it has your attention it doesn’t waste your time. The animation in the film is well thought out for its style, and the story reminds us to question how much we really want the things we say we do.
Cryptozoo is the perfect film for the NEXT category at Sundance, a strange and mythical adventure that uses an uncommon medium for the festival to tell a cautionary tale. Director Dash Shaw does a great job with his animation team keeping this movie entertaining and the cast is spectacular. Given the style of film, it may not be everyone’s first choice, but if adult animated features are your thing, you’ll dig Cryptozoo. When you get the chance to watch Cryptozoo, grab some munchies and take the absolutely weird ride this film guides you through.
Review Score: 4/5
Where Can You Watch: Magnolia Pictures purchased the rights to Cryptozoo shortly after its Sundance Premiere, but have not given a release date. You can check the studio’s website for updates: https://www.magnoliapictures.com/
Bonus content: Check out the Q&A with director Dash Shaw and cast members Lake Bell and Michael Cera on the Sundance Youtube channel. Watch here (link: https://youtu.be/X1by_v2YdyA)