Despite a dreamy, intriguing opening sequence, setting an immediately ethereal air, cartoonist Dash Shaw’s visually captivating, but structurally scattershot second feature loses footing and slinks into a trippy yet tragically dithering schlep, albeit an aesthetically captivating one.
Cryptozoo’s key defects are its errant narrative and overabundance of characters which bamboozle in both design and multitude, dislodging themes about the clatter of government/industrial corporations with flowery idealism, augmented by pencil-drawn animation and a whimsical ambience.
A pre-credits set-up introduces us to stoner couple Matthew (Michael Cera) and Amber (Louisa Krause) making love while smoking weed in a forest before happening upon a cordoned off area, within which they encounter an otherworldly being. We then meet protagonist Lauren Gray (Lake Bell), an 'army brat' who grew up after WW2 and, as a child, suffered restless nights, until a Japanese dream-eating creature called Baku, devoured her nightmares.
Lauren dedicates her life to rescuing endangered mythical creatures (cryptids) and keeping them in her Cryptozoo. She then teams up with a Russian called Gustav and Phoebe, a gorgon, to track down the Baku and save it from crooked military officials who want to harness the creatures’ power for bio-weaponry. Meanwhile, at the Cryptozoo, a Jurassic Park-style perimeter breach sees cryptids escape from their confines.
Shaw’s film is an ambitious but cluttered flight of fancy that reverberates like meditating in a shattered kaleidoscope, instead of the vivacious, epic adventure it could have been. The slender story meanders amidst an influx of crank characters, jarring violence and profanities, which entomb its crux and anaesthetise viewers, despite all the wondrous creatures, visuals, and imagination on display.
Cryptozoo screens as part of Sundance: London at Picturehouse Central on July 30th and 31st.