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  Cryptozoo Carnival Of The Animals
Year: 2021
Director: Dash Shaw
Stars: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Emily Davis, Alex Karpsovsky, Zoe Kazan, Louisa Krause, Irene Muscara, Angeliki Papoulia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie
Genre: Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The time is the nineteen-sixties, and out in the middle of this forest, a couple of hippies have decided to get back to nature. After having sex by their campfire underneath the stars, they philosophise about life in general until they notice a huge fence nearby and start to investigate it, the man opting to start climbing to see what is on the other side. From atop the barrier he calls down to his girlfriend, telling her there is a castle over yonder that he would like to visit, so she climbs up and over and soon they are in the sanctuary and seeing an actual unicorn in the trees up ahead. The man foolishly approaches, wishing to pet the creature, but as he tries to touch it calamity occurs, the man stumbles, kicks a rock which hits the unicorn, and it gores him...

That opening is kind of like Adam and Eve making a backwards journey into the Garden of Eden and finding tragedy there, but there were a number of classical and mythological allusions in writer and director Dash Shaw's painstakingly hand drawn cartoon. The premise had it that the sanctuary had been established by self-styled saviour Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell) to house, and more importantly protect, a selection of cryptozoological wonders, although really they were more taken from those myths than they were, say, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Lauren provides a safe haven for them as wouldn't you know it, the US military want to harness the beasts' abilities for warfare purposes, or at least civil unrest management, a familiar plot in science fiction.

The rest of this was perhaps less familiar, as one look at the imagery Shaw and his animation director Jane Samborski conjured up would tell you. It was not amateurish, exactly, but it was not slick either, with cut out paper characters interacting much as they had in Rene Laloux's cult classic Fantastic Planet back in the seventies, another relic of the hippy era that Cryptozoo harkened back to. You were either going to get on board with this or you were not, and despite the nudity in the first five minutes, and indeed afterwards, there would be viewers who would give up early on as not something they were prepared to sit through an hour and a half of. There was a smattering of computer animation to offset the drawings and add a more cosmic flavour, but this was obviously a work intended for the niche audience of adult cartoon fans.

Maybe it would have been a stronger effort if they had made the metaphors clearer, but aside from a general message of acceptance of those different from the norm, Shaw was more into arranging his imaginative visuals than he was delivering a lesson in tolerance. Some may find that refreshing, that this could simply be approached as an adventure for broadminded grown-ups, reasoning that kids should not have all the fun in cartoons when the possibilities were endless for the older audience, as this attempted to demonstrate, and there was plenty of worth in that. And if they had utilised a more Disney-esque cliché of characters design, it would have robbed the piece of its very particular personality; not everything had to be as slick as that, indeed the rough edges lent this a lot of distinction. That said, a dose of humour would not have gone amiss, resembling an epic written by an earnest young chap who has illustrated it himself and turned to vanity publishing as an outlet rather than a publishing house, it had that tone. But Shaw had roped in some interesting voice talent, emphasised the look of the thing, and created what appeared like was exactly what he had intended, for better or worse. Music by John Carroll Kirby.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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