Comic book illustrator, writer, and filmmaker Dash Shaw recently created a visually stunning film about cryptids called Cryptozoo. The animated feature from Magnolia Pictures innovates the creature feature subgenre while exploring artistic methods that creatively capture an array of mythological beasts.

There are hundreds of cryptids, or mythological animals, that span centuries of folklore across the world. However, none of them have been the center of a story quite like this. Cryptozoo “follows cryptozookeepers through a richly-drawn hallucinatory world as they struggle to capture a baku (a legendary 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.”

Check out the hallucinatory trailer below:

Take a Trip

If it feels like you just took two hits of acid, you aren’t alone. This is one vibrant and alluring glimpse into an otherworldly story with a moral dilemma that gives nuance to the animation. It reminds me a lot of director René Laloux’s 1973 film Fantastic Planet both in art style as well as theme. Both films seem to explore the notion of what it means to own or cage another living being and should that really happen in the first place.

Obvious budget constraints aside, animation makes the most sense to showcase a zoo of mythological creatures. In the production notes for the film, Shaw emphasized how “drawing is our only way of seeing the imaginary, mythological creatures”. He continued that “drawing is a direct circuit to imagination. Everything made, from a physical invention to a proposal for how a society would operate, has to begin with imagination.” Shaw himself wrote and directed the film while Jane Samborski directed the animation. Cryptozoo stars several familiar faces (or voices, in this case) including Lake Bell (In a World), Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Louisa Krause (Billions), Peter Stormare (Fargo), Thomas Jay Ryan (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), and Angeliki Papoulia (Amulet).

Return to 2D

In a world of perpetual film releases featuring 3D animation (and sometimes stop-motion), it’s great to see a feature film return to animation’s 2D roots. There’s been an increase in TV shows with this type of drawing such as BoJack Horseman or Rick and Morty. However, audiences are rarely given the treat of a full 2D animation feature, especially one that has well-rounded characters and moral introspection. It’s also cool to see some collage work immersed in the film that sort of reminds me of old-school music videos from the ’80s.

As someone who grew up on shows like Daria and a lot of Disney movies, I welcome more 2D features. It seems like Cryptozoo will be a prime example of how artists can work within those constraints and get creative with different styles similar to how Richard Linklater approached Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.

Cryptozoo is released on demand and in theaters on August 20th, 2021 

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