The Other Side of Animation 232: Cryptozoo Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Heads up: I was able to watch this series before its recent release via a screener sent to me by Magnolia Pictures. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Magnolia Pictures.

PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is some nudity throughout the film. This film is not for kids and more for older teens to young adults and above. The viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

Back in 2017, for what felt like half a year, Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea was my favorite animated film of that year. 2017 was a rather middling year for animation since it seemed like all of the best films were saved for 2016 and 2018. It didn’t have many standout films until the latter half of the year, and that was when I felt like the year finally had some competition. To me, if I like or hate your movie, I want to at least feel like I’m getting something different or distinct, and not just be some bog-standard film that was made for the sake of making something. When you are someone like Dash Shaw, well, you are bound to leave an impression with his vibrant visuals and distinct writing. That’s why I was super pumped about the fact he had a new movie coming out, and was in pain that I wasn’t able to check it out during Sundance and Annecy, but luckily, I got a screener and am able to check it out now! This review will be about Dash’s new movie, Cryptozoo. 

 

Like I said above, this film was written and directed by Dash Shaw. It had its world premiere at Sundance back in January 2021 winning the festival’s Innovator award, competed in the Contrechampe section at Annecy, and will be distributed in the states by Magnolia Pictures. So, with Dash bringing us another abstract and wild experience, what do I think of this new surreal trip? Does its busy visuals drag down the film or do I gel with it like peanut butter and jelly? Let’s take a look and a visit to Cryptozoo

The story takes place in a world where cryptids exist alongside humans. Our main character is Lauren Grey, voiced by Lake Bell. She has made it her life’s goal to find, capture, and protect cryptids in a zoo/animal sanctuary-like environment after encountering one at a young age. Along with a rich widow named Joan, voiced by Grace Zabriskie, she is assisted by a medusa named Phoebe, voiced by Angeliki Papoulia, and is on a quest to find a mystical creature/cryptid called a Baku, an entity that is known for eating dreams both good and bad. They have to get it before it falls into the grasp of the military and a ruthless individual named Nicholas, voiced by Thomas Jay Ryan. Can they get the Baku before it’s too late? 

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So, let’s start with the obvious, the animation is bonkers. While it might flow and feel like papercraft with very stiff and limiting animation, you can tell this was an artistic decision and not a budget or limitation. Again, just because it’s not made by Disney or had the budget of a Pixar film, doesn’t mean animated films on smaller budgets or teams look worse. There is such a thing as art direction. It reminds me of a lot of those papercraft animated features from Russia, but done with more modern tech, and is combined with some proper 2D animation to give this film an extremely wild visual flair. You can not say this film looks like any other animated film out there. It looks like a bunch of clipart and detailed cutouts. It’s a trippy film as well, using a ton of psychedelic visuals to express different story beats and a mood that I can only compare to films like Foam Bath from 1979. The voice cast brings a more grounded vibe to film than the more comedic Sinking into the Sea. It helps that you have a pretty good cast with Lake Bell, Micheal Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Grace Zabriskie, Peter Stormare, Louisa Krause, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Alex Karpovsky.

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However, we have seen features with amazing animation fall flat under the story and writing department. It’s not uncommon to find films that do so. Luckily, while the visuals may be a bit much for the eyes at points, the story is substantial enough to keep you invested. It has an indie feel as we see the commentary about how our protagonists and antagonist plan to use the cryptids for their use. Sure, Lake Bell’s character might be doing the right thing by wanting to help protect and save the cryptids, but the film and script want you to see it from a different point of view with the zoo/sanctuary setting. To be clear, it’s not saying both sides are equally bad. The villain is obviously in the wrong with how they obtain cryptids by force or through the blackmarket dealings. It’s more that it’s painting it all in a morally grey way rather than trying to fence-sit on the topic at hand. You can pull a lot from how the cryptids are represented here in the film, and I’m glad the film decided to have an ambitious tone to its experience. Yes, some stories do and should need very straightforward stories, but when you get to mix it up a little via something that’s not so clear cut, then you can have a more distinct journey. You still have to be careful, but I felt like Dash Shaw did a good job portraying the two sides of humanity and the cryptid situation. 

While the visuals may be a touch overload at times, and the dialogue is calm and beefy, Cryptozoo is unlike any other animated film out in 2021. It might not be my favorite, and its major award season chances are probably going to be in the lower bracket of getting nominated, but I think it deserves a chance. It will be out on demand and will have a small theatrical release on August 20th, and I think everyone should check it out! If you are looking for something distinct, then you will be delighted to know that this film is truly worthy of the word unique. Now then, we will be hopping back over to Netflix, and will be checking out the new Netflix action fantasy film The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf. 



Rating Go See It! 

The Other Side of Animation 88: My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

To me, there is no real surprise to going to the movies these days. Since so many films are coming out, and Hollywood isn’t becoming too risky with its big budget films, there is just no real reason to go to the theaters. Yes, indie films do balance that out with telling more diverse stories and taking more risks, and not every film needs to be original, but at the same time, I want to be surprised. I don’t want to sit there knowing what exactly is going on, or walk into a movie knowing what the big twist or story points are going to be. That’s why I loved going into and coming out of My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. This newly distributed GKids animated film was directed by comic book writer and artist, Dash Shaw, and boasted a solid cast, including Reggie Watts, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, and Susan Sarandon. So far, it has had a pretty positive reception, with only a few people being split on the overall film. Where do I fit into that group? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around two best friends, Dash, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, and Assaf, voiced by Reggie Watts. They run a school paper with their editor Verti, voiced by Maya Rudolph. After some shenanigans with Dash being jealous of Assaf and Verti going out, calling out Assaf in a new editorial, and getting in trouble with the popular girl, Mary, Dash finds something rather shocking. The school is building a new roof-top gymnasium, but the principle is ignoring building code, and the high school, well, sinks into the sea. Dash must get his friends, Assaf and Verti, out of there alive, alongside popular girl Mary, voiced by Lena Dunham, and a rather awesome lunch lady named Lunch Lady Lorraine, voiced by Susan Sarandon. Can they make it out alive? Can this film give you vast amounts of LSD-rich visuals?

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First off, let’s talk about the animation. When the trailer for this film came out, everyone was criticizing it for its less-than-stellar animation. To be fair, if you are not used to other styles of animation, I can understand the confusion, since it doesn’t look like a Pixar or Disney quality film. Personally, I have started to follow the philosophy of “I don’t care how much your budget is, it’s what you do with it that matters more”. You can be as pretty as you want to be, but if your overall experience has lackluster storytelling, execution, and characters, pretty animation won’t cut it. If it was all about looking nice, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur wouldn’t have bombed. My Entire High School is more style over lazy animation. It might not have fluid movements all the time, but it has charm and personality. This isn’t like where GoodTimes Entertainment attempted to make a theatrical quality film with a $10 Mil budget with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer: The Movie, and obviously spent it on hiring big time celebrity actors instead of putting out high quality animation and having celebrity voice work at the same time.

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Personally, I never felt distracted by My Entire Highschool’s visual style, and got very comfortable with the film because of the film’s other strength, it’s writing. While indie dialogue can become hit-or-miss, I felt like the writing and characters for the film were very strong. I liked the dark comedy sprinkled throughout the film, I liked the chemistry between the characters, and I liked how punchy the dialogue felt. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Dash Shaw found a way to make the quips and lingo coming from the characters feel natural. I can see why some people are calling this a modern day John Hughes film, since it has that tone and vibe down from something like The Breakfast Club. I also liked the characters. Sure, Dash doesn’t become a likable character at first, and I wouldn’t personally go as far as he does on some things, but I honestly felt like he acted more like a realistic teenager than most teens you see in movies. How many times have you been jealous and spiteful because of sudden change? Or how about how you felt like you were the greatest thing imaginable? To me, the characters came off more realistic than anything else. It also shows off how hollow and rather toxic school communities can be, due to how the different groups of students can damage one another. It’s also a satirical approach to a disaster movie, since while natural disasters can be scary and very damaging events, it’s darkly humorous that a principle would be so inept in budget spending that he would rather risk making more money and ignore safety code to justify a roof-top gymnasium than making sure the school didn’t collapse. It’s dumb and unrealistic, but how immensely over-the-top have most disaster movies been?

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If I had to complain about something, it would be that the LSD-style images near the third act can become a bit too much at times. I don’t have any trouble dealing with flashing images, but there was one scene where it almost became too much. It’s one of the few times I could think of where the visuals and indie style almost becomes distracting. I mean, yes, the animation is very different, and I think that helps it stand out, but when the indie vibe becomes too in-your-face, then that’s a problem.

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I know this movie will probably be on a base-by-base situation in terms of overall enjoyment, but I really loved My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. It had great laughs, vibrant visuals, a good sense of humor, and the actors did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. I thought it would be a while for something to top The LEGO Batman Movie as my favorite film of the year, but for now, it has topped it. I’m sure things might change in the future with upcoming GKids releases and other releases, on top of rewatching these films for the end of the year list, but for now, I have a current favorite animated film of 2017. Sadly, it’s getting close to the 90th review so how about we look at a movie Netflix didn’t bother to advertise for obvious reasons with Sahara? Thank you for reading my review. I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time

Rating: Go see it!