SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Cryptids are the stuff of myth—gorgons, centaurs, mermaids, chupacabra, yetis, etc. In writer/ director Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo, all these creatures are alive and not so well. They are hunted by the government and others who want to profit off their powers. Two human sympathizers, Lauren Gray (Lake Bell) and Joan (Grace Zabriskie), have built a sanctuary for cryptids called, you guessed it, Cryptozoo.
While Cryptozoo is animated, it’s definitely a film for adults, which I appreciate, being the type of person who usually rolls her eyes out of her head upon seeing the phrase “family-friendly.” There is nudity within the first thirty seconds, which is certainly not going to happen in any of the typical animated fare that the big studios choose to make. The movie is also hand-drawn and quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Cryptozoo will only appeal to a niche audience. This isn’t the type of film you want to watch with your conservative baby boomer parents, or I guess if you’re not as old as me, grandparents. It’s for the cinephiles who love Ralph Bakshi. Although the animation style couldn’t be more different, the ethos is the same. It’s for weirdoes and outcasts of all stripes. Because, after all, it is about protecting a different class of citizens from being persecuted by the big bad everymen.
“Two human sympathizers…have built a sanctuary for cryptids…”
It’s also about seeing that your ideals may be causing you to compromise yourself unwittingly. It’s heavy stuff. What helps with the heaviness is the beauty and psychedelic nature of the animation. Also, just seeing a stampede of centaurs or a Gorgon who wears contacts to keep herself from turning men to stone is very cool. It alleviates some of the sadness that the movie ekes out quite a bit of, especially towards the end.
I have always loved Zabriskie since I first saw her on Twin Peaks, and her voice is unmistakable the moment Joan comes on screen. Bell is excellent as the no-nonsense Lauren Gray. Peter Stormare plays Gustaf, a not so trustworthy satyr who plays the flute like nobody’s business. I especially enjoyed Angeliki Papoulia as the aforementioned gorgon with contacts. She makes us sympathize even more for the cryptids. Michael Cera has a pivotal role as Matthew, a human who stumbles upon the Cryptozoo in the forest with his girlfriend Amber (Louisa Krause). The cast is all fantastic and brings their human or beastly counterparts to life in a beautiful way.
Just know that when you turn on Cryptozoo, you’re in for something that’s unlike anything else you’ve seen before. It is the most interesting and singular animated movie I’ve seen in years. Shaw and animation director Jane Samborski did a hell of a job creating a world that couldn’t possibly exist in reality. Even so, we’re able to suspend our disbelief from the first scene and get enveloped in this phantasmagoric morality tale. I give a round of applause to everyone involved in making this animated oddity because it certainly stands out. It’s a film I will never, ever forget.
Cryptozoo screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…unlike anything else you've seen before."