Creator: Zack Stentz
Voice Cast: Paul-Mikel Williams, Kausar Mohammed, Jenna Ortega, Ryan Potter, Raini Rodriguez, Sean Giambrone
Streaming on: Netflix
When Michael Crichton wrote the science-fiction novel Jurassic Park, I’m not sure he realised what a monster – both literal and figurative – he had created. Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous may be the first animated television series of the franchise, but it’s technically the sixth installment centered on humankind’s catastrophic attempt to launch a theme park of cloned dinosaurs. Frankly, after Steven Spielberg’s path-breaking opener in 1993, every other film has been a rehashed, derivative version of the same tropes. Only technology and times have evolved; the premise is still stuck in the prehistoric age.
Even the dinosaurs are tired. They are understandably angry that arrogant humans have forced them to exist during possibly the worst phase in the history of the planet. But they are angrier about the fact that, unlike the Apes franchise, they haven’t been given the power to get smarter, cooler and newer. Film after film, the poor things are roaring in the same baritone, raging like overgrown zombies and still wreaking havoc on Isla Nublar. It’s only a matter of time before the dino-union calls for a strike.
The creative bankruptcy is so dire now that the same film has been made twice over. Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous is Jurassic World (2015) from a different perspective: The 8-episode series follows six teenagers stranded on Isla Nublar during the events of Jurassic World – the dinosaurs have gone nuts, escaped their habitats and the deadly hybrid Indominus Rex is on the loose. While Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are busy saving the day in the live-action universe, these young campers in another corner of the island face mortal danger in an animated dimension. Like most kids, they can’t stay still, and keep getting themselves into trouble and breaking curfews so often that you almost hope T-Rex and his pals feast on human tacos. At one point, we see a familiar scene: The on-the-run kids watch in horror as a helicopter shoots at the carnivores before it crashes into a dome that releases a swarm of winged creatures. Simon Asrani, the park owner played by the late Irrfan Khan in Jurassic World, was the man piloting the helicopter. It’s a brief moment and, given the context, oddly moving for Indian viewers. Most of us would kill to be back in 2015.
There’s nothing wrong with this series per se. Every episode has a set piece. Every teen has his/her moment. The pace is consistent. There are gyrospheres, underground tunnels, the genetics lab, quick sand ponds, tree houses, monorails, even a misfit baby dinosaur called Bumpy (“it’s O.K. to look different”). I can see why this might be a fun and “educational” family watch. The racial and ethnic diversity is far from subtle. The protagonist is African American (Darius the dino-nerd), the rest feature a social media vlogger, an alpha Asian American brat, a loud Latin-American girl, an athletic Arab girl and a geekish introvert.
Their bodies, too, are designed to reflect lazy cultural stereotypes (the Latin-American girl is curvy, the Arab girl is elaborately toned, the vlogger girl-next-door-ish, Darius is lithe). Their interactions are safe and sanitized; the words are humourless and pre-teen but the actions very much in the defiant teen-to-young-adult category. At times, it’s obvious that the creators try to emulate the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse template – but the depth feels forced, especially because a group of kids running back and forth on an island of bored dinosaurs can only think so much. After a while, the quiet breaks between the chaos become preachy.
What I don’t get is the dissonance between creation and ambition. I will never understand why makers put so much into replicating a world we’re already so familiar with. Why not change it up a bit and take the space forward instead of piggybacking on a franchise whose ideas went extinct years ago? Animation isn’t child’s play. It’s a painstaking and limitless filmmaking process, but ultimately futile if the writers don’t care to subvert their source material. It’s ironic that the dinosaur designs are far more realistic than the humans, which in a way suggests that we are the imposters on a planet that should never have been ruled by us. That’s the only piece of subtext, lest the narrative becomes too serious or self-reflective for the target audience.
The fact is that there will be future generations of children who are bound to be fascinated by dinosaurs and the humanless history of Earth. It’s the perfect mix of science and science-fiction, heart and imagination: what’s not to love? But perhaps the adults should start thinking about manufacturing new myths instead of recycling old ones. A trembling surface of water will be just as cinematic decades down the line. But what’s the point if the kids as well as the grandparents perceive cinema – and its monsters – the same way?