Cryptozoo – SUNDANCE 2021 Review

Articulating its high-concept premise with hand-crafted animation, Cryptozoo displays a unique verve with a premise boasting worthwhile ruminations. While the project’s makeshift spirit presents a certain allure, wrtier/director Dash Shaw’s sincere effort can’t quite marry its dissident pieces into a satisfying whole.

In a world where humans share existence with mystical animal creatures (including Baku, a dream-eating animal hybrid that remains elusive for captors), Cryptozoo follows a passionate cryptozookeeper (Lake Bell) as she tries to fight for their protection against sinister forces.

Shaw’s strengths as a graphic designer translate seamlessly onto the screen. An arresting mixture of pastel paints, mythical hand-drawn creations and kaleidoscope imagery evoke the character’s sentiments with an impressive artistic bend. At its best, these frames are wildly expressive and often times compelling in ways few other animated titles can ape. The techniques are further enhanced by Shaw’s brazen formation of his own tonal wavelength. The film’s cynical, yet sly worldview operates as a fitting canvas for Shaw to explore thoughtful conceits about our modern world. Where its society’s commodification of its unique attributes or human’s suppressive treatment of their surroundings, Cryptozoo bats around concepts worth a deep examination.

It’s a shame Shaw’s film is unable to offer fleshed-out concepts despite good intentions. A bevy of worthwhile ideas ruminate without receiving the proper focus they desperately seek. Shaw’s heavy-handed delivery as a screenwriter doesn’t help matters either, often confusing thoughtful platitudes for stoner-level wistfulness. The detached presentation lacks the bitting edge to make a worthwhile statement while never investing audience’s in a meaningful emotional connection.

The intriguing tonality never quite comes together as intended. Even with a cast of assured comedic talents (Zoe Kazan, Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman), most the voice actors find themselves reduced to reclusively solemn deliveries that mask their inherent strengths. The vacant characters drown in a narrative failing to tread water, as Shaw fixates on his thesis to the point of ignoring peripheral elements.

I respect Shaw’s well-intended efforts and I am sure they will find an agreeable audience, but Cryptozoo’s stylistically inventive imagery can’t compensate for a discombobulated narrative [C+].

Reviewed by Matt Conway

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