By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Available to view on demand Aug 21 9PM and Aug 23 9AM (EST)
August 20, 2021 (USA)
Please check local listings
Dash Shaw‘s Cryptozoo is a kind of animation that fans of this genre would expect to be released by The National Film Board of Canada rather than Adult Swim. The art style used in this film is something I’d expect from this digital media producer who encourages independent arts. I can see this creator further his trade with more shorts and daring narratives.
Lauren Gray (Lake Bell) is trying to save Baku, an eater of dreams, from the black market. It looks like a tapir from afar, but there’s more to this animal’s snout should it meet a sleeping human. This creature is lurking somewhere in the veil between worlds, and she can’t help this cryptid because it’s unwilling to be caught. Some people fear it and others will embrace it. This creature sucks nightmares (fears) away.
Other humans want to capture these legendary creatures for trading in the black market, and the military simply wants to exploit them in times of war. This film’s primary message to leave these innocent creatures alone can apply to our world and that market where hunters are killing endangered species for sport and medicine. T
When compared to Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Gray is much different. This film’s design feels more like a grounded Indiana Jones style adventure where the lead is concerned about where the artifacts he’s hunting down will be put after being found than the adventure. The story Shaw constructed has a deep message, and he makes a solid point in that no innocent creatures should be exploited. It also questions this character’s own flaw, because she’s keeping all these mythical creatures in a zoo. They are generally well cared for and protected from those poachers, but what makes her above the law? The tale meanders a lot before trying to give an answer.
Phoebe (Angeliki Papoulia) is a gorgon who helps. She knows there’s always that line that no hero or anti-hero should never cross, and this film brilliantly examines when going too far means disaster for all.
Not everyone will like Cryptozoo. This film is an adult animation used to convey a sense of the phantasmagorical than a basic tale for those who’ve been enjoying those Discovery Channel programs about the hunt for Bigfoot; Those television cryptozoologist hosts searching for Nessie and other legendary creatures aren’t going to find any concrete evidence because that would mean the finale of a show, and perhaps the men in black coming in to shut down the hunt.
This film does offer an impressive catalogue of well-known figures from folklore. I appreciate that there’s even a few that I’m not as familiar with. Thankfully, Shaw doesn’t try to offer everything from a D&D monster manual. He uses particular figures when it works in the tale he’s trying to construct. In the introduction, the reason behind why a unicorn is killed feels more like an allegory. Its Paradise Lost. When the film begins with two seemingly unimportant hippies–who are nude–my first instinct is to believe are Adam and Eve after the fall; They’re trying to re-enter Eden and they talk about how hard it is to get in. We’re tripping through their belief that it is safe, but it’s not. This world suggests everyone is capable of Original Sin, and that’s something no cryptid can eat away.
4 Stars out of 5