‘Cryptozoo’: Narnia Meets ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ in Hauntingly Beautiful 60’s Animated Reclamation Tale

A loving hippie couple stumbles across a mythological world much bigger than their own, filled with endangered creatures and a militaristic and capitalistic society guided by fear set on destroying the magical world.

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Image: Sundance Institute

True Hollywood Talk’s team is accredited media for the Sundance 2021 Film Festival, which has gone virtual for the first-time. Here’s our coverage on what we believe to be the most influential and socially impactful indie films that will soon make their way to streaming platforms as COVID-19 continues to linger.

In starting this review off, we have to take a minute to quote Carmine Falcone from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins:

People from your world have so *much* to lose. Now, you think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate. You’re, uh, you’re Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham; you’d have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn’t know your name. So, don’t-don’t come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.”

Now, think about every animated Disney movie you’ve watched. Visualize your favorite film. Now, take that film and add the most gruesome torture you could think of when it came to its animal caricatures and human side-kicks.

For Millennials and Gen-Z, try visualizing Rick and Morty on steroids, as if you thought it couldn’t get any darker—filled with anti-capitalism, militaristic ego, and humanity’s battle with Mother Nature and why the world outside of our own is so “different.”  

Never before did I think I would ever see a unicorn have its leg broken, brains bashed in, and its horn snapped in half, right in front of my eyes. I mean, sure, Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter murdered a unicorn for its blood to keep him alive while searching for the Sorcerer’s Stone—but still, this was something else entirely. 

Perhaps one of the most unique, rare, thought-stirring, and raging works I’ve seen to date was at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival with director Dash Shaw’s ‘Cryptozoo.’

Welcome to the Zoo

Image: Sundance Institute

The film takes (hippie) viewers to a 1960s animated, colorful, and beautifully hand-sketched world, where we are first introduced to a promiscuous and stoned hippie couple, hand-sketched, having snuck into the woods to engage in sexual intercourse. The hippie lovers, Amber (voiced by Louisa Krause) and curiously dim-witted Matthew (voiced by Michael Cera), discover a tall, neverending fence which they believe to be a military installation.

Little did they know they had just blazingly stumbled across a refuge for endangered and misunderstood mythical creatures, known as “Cryptids“, which combine legends of numerous folk tales and several hundred different cultures. 

So, what do you need to know about this film? Before we dive in, check out the Teaser Clip of Cryptozoo:

#1 – This Animated Film is Not For Kids, Which for the Sake of Your Child’s Education, They Should Be Watching With You

It’s fair to assume that many people won’t understand what this film just accomplished. Certainly, magic isn’t for everyone, which serves as the dogmatic mentality of today’s generation.

From the beginning, we see the human body at its most vulnerable, naked, open, yearning for the touch of another. Amber and Matthew’s encounter with the unicorn ends as gory and bloodily as you never imagined. But this story isn’t about them, it’s about the mentality they carry—a lack of understanding and an immediate assumption that the strangeness they see before them is “accessible” and subject to “ownership.”

Curious as to what’s on the other side of this tall and neverending fence, we follow Amber and Matthew into a world, much bigger than our own, where it seems as if the worlds of Narnia, Where the Wild Things Are, Pandora, and Cirque du Freak all took one gigantic acid trip and merged. With creatures we come to know as “Cryptids,” viewers are introduced to a world of griffins, fauns, winged horses, and a Medusa-like gorgon sidekick.

The story arch is less about Amber and the deceased Matthew, and everything to do with the Indiana Jones-like Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell), who created and opened Cryptozoo for the purpose of providing a “sanctuary” for all Cryptids, in hopes of protecting them from the local military which is hellbent on capturing all Cryptids and weaponizing them as government assets. 

#2 – Is CryptoZoo “Heaven” or Is it “Hell?”

Viewers are repeatedly told by Lauren that this Zoo is a safe-haven, a sanctuary, a refuge for all Cryptids. But is it really?

Our humanity tells us that our choice in choosing to protect and shield these creatures from the rest of the world, we are doing our civic duty to Mother Nature. But what we are really doing is taking it upon ourselves to assume that these creatures need to be protected, need to be tamed, need to be contained by us. 

In reality, the very evil Lauren Gray is trying to fight, is the very evil she is unconsciously creating. This idea of “ownership” and “control” is what makes the character of Lauren so damn interesting, as she is fighting as hard as she possibly can to protect the Cryptids, while simultaneously holding these creatures captive, without considering what they wanted. 

They can fend for themselves, as they always have,” Gray says at the end of the film. 

#3 – Stop Trying to Control Everything

Throughout the film, we see Lauren, among a few of her crypto zookeeper associates struggle with the thought of allowing these Cryptids to remain hidden and unknown, left to fend for themselves, or to keep them within the confines of the zoo, in efforts to protect them. 

Society’s need to try and control the world around them is a major problem. We have seen this become more troubling in recent years, particularly with law enforcement and our tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Parler. 

Remember, we are GUESTS in this world. We do not own it. We either contribute to its growth and evolution, or to its utter destruction. 

“We can only greet the strange and unusual with love. And if we show them love, they will return love. And love will spread and envelope all the beings on our diverse, wondrous world.” 

What a hauntingly beautiful message that our world right now needs, more than ever, following a tumultuous four years and 2020 election season. 

Image: Sundance Institute | Director Dash Shaw

With a runtime of 90 minutes, we look forward to seeing this out on all major platforms. The film is currently seeking distribution. While this isn’t made for children by any sense of the world, perhaps it’s not the worst idea to see how they respond to a work like this, considering what they may have already been exposed to in 2020 alone with the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The film was directed by Dash Shaw. And the animated beauty within, directed by Jane Samborski and led by Emily Wolver. The film stars Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Alex Karpovsky, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Grace Zabriskie.

This was an A Fit Via Fi presentation of an Electric Chinoland production, with Low Spark Films, in association with Washington Square Films, with support from Cinereach. 

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