Monday, August 16, 2021

Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo

This film premiered earlier in the year at Sundance, but it has already aged badly. In the opening prologue, the 1960s hippy characters daydream about violently storming the U.S. Capitol, because that is what they think socially concerned activists should do. Frankly, the entire attitude of the film is nearly as problematic. Once again, it is the U.S. military and its industrial support system that are the bad guys of Dash Shaw’s animated feature Cryptozoo, which opens Friday in New York.

After waxing poetic about attacking the seat of the U.S. Federal government, Matthew stumbles across the fence of a Jurassic Park-looking facility, with his more cautious girlfriend Amber. Eventually, we will meet up with her again, but first Shaw flashforwards a bit, introducing us to Lauren, a cryptozoologist working for the crypto-menagerie for mythical creatures founded and funded by Joan, a slightly dodgy philanthropist.

Unfortunately, one of their cryptids is missing. As it happens, Lauren has a childhood attachment to the elephant-looking “baku.” Known as dream eaters, she fondly credits a baku for vacuuming up her nightmares during her difficult childhood. With her new Medusa-like sidekick, Lauren sets off on the trail of the missing baku.

Of course, the leading suspect is the U.S. military-industrial complex, which naturally harbors ambitions of weaponizing the baku’s abilities. Seriously, do you think we could maybe briefly refrain from launching attacks on the American military in a week when our they are desperately airlifting personnel from the roof of our Kabul embassy, like it is 1975 all over again (thanks entirely to the appalling misjudgment of the Biden administration)? Again, the timing is bad for this film, but it is due to its virulent underlying ideology.

Shaw’s wavy-shimmering style of animation is also a bit of an acquired taste. It bears a resemblance to the old
Dr. Katz show, but it is more creepily Gilliam-esque here. While his first feature, My Entire High School Sinkinginto the Sea was slight and inconsequential, it still managed to mine mild laughs from its premise. In contrast, Cryptozoo takes itself agonizingly seriously.

Not surprisingly, the characters are mostly stereotypes and the crypto-critters never develop much charm. Clearly, the underground comics of the 1960s were a source of inspiration for Dash, but it is hard to think of a genre that is further past its prime.

This is a bad week and a bad year for
Cryptozoo to release, but it would never be entertaining. It is basically a humorless lecture dressed up as graffiti. Not recommended, Cryptozoo opens Friday (8/20) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.