Welcome back to Made Animated!
That’s right, this semi-retired feature is back…. And for some reason, it’s for a totally new feature that debuted on Netflix a few days ago: a little thing called Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous.
How can this be, El Santo? Isn’t Made Animated for older cartoons?
It’s true. Many of my reviews have been from the big 90’s animation heyday. Typically I’ve used this space to highlight some generally forgotten efforts that people spent a lot of time on but have since been nearly forgotten.
However, there is another element that binds all my selections together: my utter bafflement at such a thing existing. Why do a cartoon about fish detectives filled with sex jokes because it’s aimed at adults? Or a heroic team show in the vein of the Ninja Turtles… only everyone is mummies? Or a western featuring cowboys who who are bovines themselves?
And thus my burning question in the case of this show: “Who exactly was nostalgic for Jurassic World?”
Because that’s what people were clamoring for… a show based on Jurassic World.
The show is brimming with Jurassic World callbacks. During the entire run I mentally posted the Captain America “I understood that reference” gif. Those dang hamster balls with the Jimmy Fallon video. The mentions of “Dr. Masrani” and “Claire Dearing” … names that I had successfully banished from my memory in the five years since the movie’s release that still tickled the Pavlovian portion of my brain. The appearance of Dr. Henry Wu (not voiced by B.D. Wong, sadly).
And for you OG Jurassic-heads, we do get a cameo from Mr. DNA. Though I will say I was highly amused that the classic Jurassic Park entrance gate apparently got repurposed as the gateway to Camp Cretaceous.
I imagine that the people with the most faith were the names prominently displayed as the executive producers. They’re a veritable combination of Hollywood power players: Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall. And also Colin Trevorrow. No surprise that they’d be invested in expanding this world, really. I imagine that part of the motivation, too, was to rehabilitate a critically reviled (yet financially profitable) follow-up series.
Hey, it worked for The Clone Wars.
Besides, there were enough tantalizing threads from the film to follow up on. Jurassic World, after all, does take place post-Jurassic Park. What happened to regain the public trust after the spectacular failure of the original park? You know, to the point where a fully functional Jurassic World managed to attract a Starbucks and a Margaritaville? Such possibilities would not have crossed my mind if my wife hadn’t selected this show to suddenly binge-watch because it had surreptitiously appeared on Netflix’s Top Ten.
This show, sadly, sheds no light on such pressing questions. However, it does add a wrinkle that ultimately met my criteria for baffling yet intriguing: the folks running Jurassic World thought it would be a great idea to open a summer camp in the middle of a volatile dinosaur park… staffed by two whole people.
Here were my exact words after watching the first 30 seconds: “This looks terrible.”
Yet here I am writing about this show, and ultimately recommending it. A big reason was those first few seconds. I suspect that director Lane Leuras knew that “disgust” was going to be the initial reaction, no matter what. The opening scene is a first-person sequence where someone is outrunning a dinosaur. We pan out … and we realize that what we’ve been watching was a video game.
It was terrible on purpose, tricking the viewer into thinking the show was worse than it looked. You know what? I respect that.
Leuras, incidentally, has been nominated for four Daytime Emmys, all for TV adaptations to DreamWorks films. The show was created by Zack Stentz, a guy who has written screenplays for superhero movies. He was also the writer for the Netflix film Rim of the World, which similarly centered around a summer camp dealing with extraordinary circumstances.
The bait-and-switch intro prepares you for some other twist. For example, the characters seem utterly one-dimensional at first. Our lead, Darius, is saddled with that Trevorrow-patented tragic childhood. (You know… from the mind of that infamous genius behind Book of Henry.) Remember how those two kids in the movie were dealing with a parental divorce? Well, Darius is using a trip to a dinosaur theme park as a way to cope with the death of his dad.
The rest are the social media influencer, the athletic overachiever, the needy extrovert, the fussy nerd, and the self-absorbed rich kid. They seemed to fit such standard roles that my wife and we’re starting to wonder which kids would be eaten by dinosaurs in this modern and more sauropod-infused retelling of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. For the record, I called Instagram Girl as the first victim.
While the cast diversity was appreciated (and with the appropriately diverse voice cast), even that felt a little cliche. The talkative Hispanic girl, for example, comes from a big family with a lot of brothers and sisters. Of course. And the Asian kid has an emotionally distant father who’s never around. Yup, checks out.
So it’s a welcome turn of events when these characters turn out to be more complex that they seem at first. Kenji, our rich boy, gets one of the first inklings at character development when he uses his rep as a bored rich kid to keep Darius from getting sent home after things go sideways. It’s a simple but effective character transformation. It’s not the only one.
In a reference that zero people will get, it reminded me of this old scripted “fake” reality show Siberia. “… commitment has allowed a number of Siberia’s heretofore unknown cast to provide some of the most affecting stealth performances of the 2013 TV season,” said Dennis Perkins in his AV Club review. On the show, characters started off as one-dimensional reality show stereotypes. As the show progressed, though, their personalities —- perhaps cultivated to look good in front of the camera —- suddenly go through drastic changes. They become their true selves when the show’s facade falls apart.
It occurs to me the same thing happened here.
The very name of the show sets you up for low stakes teenage hi-jinks in the world of Jurassic Park. Camp Cretaceous! There’s going to be campfires and ghost stories! Is the dino enthusiast going to totally mistake the velociraptor pen for a compy enclosure? You know it! Oh man, these kids are going to get an earful from their counselors!
Then there are the counselors themselves, who are comically inept. They seem to be modeled a little bit on Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Male counselor is a good natured goofball while female counselor (voiced by Jameela Jamil) is a straight-laced by-the-books type. (She doesn’t run in high heels, though.) They are hilariously understaffed, and at one point leave the kids to fend for themselves at the camp because they need to urgently have a face-to-face conversation with Claire Dearing herself. If they couldn’t spare any staff to babysit the kids in — and I cannot stress this enough —- a park filled with a ton of dangerous dinosaurs where the kids have already gotten into trouble three separate times in problems of their own devising, why didn’t they just bring the kids along with them? Because all of Jurassic World was staffed by unqualified morons, it seems.
But then, mysteries start piling up. The summer camp concept is dispensed as quickly as the Reality TV angle in Siberia. The kids drop their carefully cultivated personalities when they have to switch to survival mode. Friendships are forged. Alliances are tested. Tensions flare surprisingly over a missing cellphone. As new challenges arise, every character starts to wonder about whose judgment to trust.
Even the viewers’ allegiances are constantly shifting. One of the kids does the stupid kid thing: he insists on dragging along a cute dinosaur, despite that dinosaur slowing the entire team down. The others implore him to ditch the dino, and you’re right there with them. But then the kid pleads, “I’m not abandoning him the way they abandoned us.” Suddenly, you understand his motivations.
During our binge-watch, we were wondering when exactly the show was taking place. With the mention of Dr. Masrani, surely this was a prequel. There’s a fairly big spoiler that happens around the middle episode, though, that recontextualized the entire show for me. SPOILERS AHEAD!
I guess I should have been clued into it when the Indominus Rex escaped from his pen. However, it finally became clear when the helicopter crashes into the dome containing the pterodactyls. At first I thought, “Wow, how often is this incident going to happen?” But then I realized Camp Cretaceous was happening at the same time as the movie. So somewhere out there, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were fighting that albino monster while the kids are having their adventures.
This is one of the show’s weaknesses, though. Once it’s revealed, the rest of the show feels like a greatest hits compilation. When the kids get on water, you’re counting down to the moment they have the mosasaur encounter.
To my surprise, despite aggressively being a show that I had no interest in watching, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous managed to win me over. While the plot of the film itself was a little paper-thin, the world it created — a fully functioning Walt Disney World but with dinosaurs — was a place that you wanted to explore and see more of. The show, though, does end on a slightly dissatisfying note. It’s one that’s common with all Netflix shows, either animated or live-action. You can never end things definitively if you want to get that second season.
Inadvertently hilarious were some of the self-discoveries. In the movie, Owen Grady scoffed at the designer dinos, saying that they’re dinosaurs and that’s cool enough. Well, our boy Darius dreamed all his life about finally getting to visit a dinosaur park. And then when he got there… he realized it kinda sucked. He even gives a big speech about this discovery. What a revelation.
In any case… John Williams got paid, y’all.
Check out all the previous classic animation reviews under the tag #MADE ANIMATED!