An animated film depicting a battle between good guys and bad guys over the welfare of a collection of cryptids (legendary animals).

The movie blurb goes like this: "Visionary comic book writer/artist/filmmaker Dash Shaw’s vibrant, fantastical animated feature follows cryptozookeepers through a richly-drawn hallucinatory world as they struggle to capture a baku (a legendary [Japanese] [bad] dream-eating hybrid creature) and begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a zoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Featuring the voice talents of Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Grace Zabriskie and Angeliki Papoulia, CRYPTOZOO is written and directed by Shaw, with Jane Samborski directing the stunning animation." Dash Shaw's previous animated feature was his 2016 My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (which I reviewed as part of that year's NYFF). Magnolia Pictures is the distributer this time.

Decided not to write a full review of this. The second film has all the faults of Dash Shaw's first animated feature and bad direction of the cast, all of whom speak in a dreary monotone. Its battle to "save" mythical creatures, or cryptids, from exploitation by the military as weapons and establish a haven for them (hence the somewhat misleading "cryptozoo") seems far-fetched and grows tiresome early on and remains so. The drawing wanders back and forth from simple, with watercolor-istic shading, like Shaw's first film but in a different style, to wildly colorful, complex, and abstract for no evident reason. Again all the film has the automatic appeal of the not-Pixar and the not-Disney, and one would particularly welcome the wild colorful bits, even if they're not identifiably stylish, if they only had a clearer purpose in the story.

This at first seemed unique and interesting and I was going to recommend it to a friend. But then it drifts from its intriguing opening and becomes pointless and wearying, and I said, "No." Not as many hip names in the voice cast this time, but the cast is just as wasted as before. This is a collaboration between Shaw and Samborski, his wife, who "directs" the animation. It's not clear what ideas Shaw is engaging with by his introduction of a gorgon, a unicorn, etc. here. The lumpy, victimized baku is the MacGuffin, but the gorgon is the cryptid personally closest to the main characters, found in every scene after a while, and Angeliki Papoulia, who voices her, sounds sympathetically like Ingrid Bergman and this becomes the most interesting character, the type of the misfit who manages to "pass" much of the time, but at great cost.

The opening, of a mature hippy couple, seen fully nude al fresco making love, who talk like it's the sixties, seems weirdly engaging, but their dialogue begins to seem crude and condescending. They climb over a high fence, leading to an unfortunate encounter with a unicorn. This plot-line is then abandoned till far along in the subsequent story. The final section becomes a continual chase and an escape in combat with simplistic bad guys, by which time the action has entered a long, final period of being simply wearying. Any possibility of exploiting the material's possible appeal to young people is abandoned early on with the "adult" content as well as, if that matters anymore, the liberal use of F-words.

Cryptozoo 95 mins., debuted Jan. 2021 at Sundance (NEXT Innovator Award), showing subsequently at fourteen international festivals listed on IMDb, including SFilm (Persistence of Vision Award (POV)) Annency, the Berlinale (special mention) and Fantasia (Montreal). Metacritic rating: 79%, based on 11 reviews (with no rating under 70%). The conclusion of David Rooney's Hollywood Reporter review is worth quoting; it covers all the bases: "Its freewheeling storytelling often feels slapdash, its hippy-dippy earnestness a touch simplistic and its central allegory is lifted straight out of X-Men. But there’s a nonstop fusillade of imagination at work here that commands attention, even when the balance of art-school inventiveness and child-like fantasy threatens to topple into chaos." Opens in Landmark Theaters and on demand Aug 20, 2021.