Tropic Sprockets / Cryptozoo

By Ian Brockway

From animator Dash Shaw, “Cryptozoo” is a vivid and imaginative film in the tradition of “Avatar” and “Yellow Submarine.” The film has stirring animation that is both psychedelic and moody. The existential and quirky tone will keep you guessing. 

The story opens with Amber (Louisa Krause) and Matt (Michael Cera) naked on a camping trip. They discuss life and the cosmos and all is far out and groovy. Then a black industrial fence appears. Matt wants to climb over the sinister looking fence in his birthday suit. Mistake number one. Matt reaches the top and is compelled when he spies: a forbidding black castle. Mistake number two. He decides to investigate further and is enthralled by a magical sight: an actual unicorn. The unicorn does not look thrilled to see a naked human male. Undaunted, Matt confronts the animal, intent on petting it. The frightened creature impales Matt in the chest, killing him instantly.

Amber gradually discovers that she is in some kind of zoo. Amber crushes the unicorn with a rock. Blood gushes everywhere. 

While the beginning is more like Lars von Trier than the Beatles, events mellow out a bit.

Lauren Gray (Lake Bell) arrives to rescue the creatures called Cryptids. She is part pre-Raphaelite heroine and part Angelina Jolie. She is a veterinarian.

The animation is compelling, forever shifting in spirit, genre and mood. Sometimes the visuals resemble color field paintings while at others the gutsy splashes of color resemble Abstract Expressionism. 

The animals themselves resemble the creatures depicted by Max Ernst, quasi bird and human figures, abandoned, lonely and outcast, left to fend for themselves in a homo sapiens majority.

There is a military soldier Nick (Thomas Jay Ryan) very similar to the villain in the fore-mentioned “Avatar” who wishes to weaponize the mythical animals. 

While its counter-culture narrative feels more conventional than the visual design, “Cryptozoo” with its nonchalant deadpan humor and eccentricity, deserves a place among the cult films “Heavy Metal” and “Yellow Submarine.”

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