Photo By: Noah Nickel via IMDB

Cryptozoo is a great example of just how much the medium of animation can allow artists to create. But unfortunately, it fails to reach the essence it aimed for.

Cartoonist and animator Dash Shaw directs this hallucinogenic movie that features some rather unique creatures. Shaw earned Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Innovator Award, among other prizes and some additional nominations for this film.

Cryptozoo, originally released earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, and later on by Magnolia Pictures, is about unique mythical creatures, some known such as unicorns, krakens, and medusas, and others created by Shaw. These creatures are called cryptos and have to live in hiding from society. Lauren Grey, a veterinarian and cryptozookeeper voiced by Lake Bell, creates a safe haven for these creatures. 

The story follows Grey and Phoebe, a medusa crypto voiced by Angeliki Papolia, trying to find a Baku, a dream-eating crypto that gets rid of nightmares. The Baku is a small elephant with eyebrows of fire that uses its trunk to suction nightmares from people. The government is after the Baku as well, so it is a race against time for the safety of this defenseless crypto.

Lake Bell has been in a number of small roles in other animated films such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Shrek Forever After, The Secret Life of Pets, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. The distinction here is that Cryptozoo is an adult-animated film, something new for Bell, but the starring role is a great addition to her film library.

The film also features known voices such as Michael Cera, even if he just appears for a small portion of the film, Alex Karpovsky, Zoe Kazan, Louisa Krause, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Peter Stormare who has appeared in films such as The Big Lebowski, Fargo, John Wick 2, and 22 Jump Street, among others.

It is unfortunate, however, that with such a unique premise and talented cast, the film fails to reach its full potential. What failed is the script; the actors are not able to do much with such mediocre writing. The movie had the visuals to reach what it set out to do, but the dialogue slowed down the pace of the movie unnecessarily.

The film also tried to grasp too many themes at once. It would have done better if it focused on fewer and developed them further. It had good ideas, but failed to dive deep into the topics it brought up. From animal captivity to hiding identity and persecution of those “different” to what society deems “normal,” and anti-government ideals, the film tried to touch on more themes than it could handle.

Ultimately, the visuals were the only outstanding aspect of the film. They’re beautiful and the creature designs are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which is why it’s disappointing that the prevailing memory this film leaves is what it could have been rather than what it was. 

Cryptozoo is a skippable movie, though I would recommend the trailer, as you will get more out of that than the whole 95-minute movie.