Cryptozoo (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Grace Zabriskie, Angeliki Papoulia

Director: Dash Shaw

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (It would probably be R for Animated Blood and Nudity)

Release Date: August 20, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen something as hypnotic as Cryptozoo. With its psychedelic animation and entrancing music, it sucks you right into its world of fantastical creatures and then keeps your attention fully in its grasp. “Cryptozoo” is a title that caught my fancy; perhaps it has now caught yours as well! Not that many movie titles have z’s in them. Maybe you look at “cryptozoo” and know exactly what it means right way, or maybe you’re a little confused, but intrigued. Or maybe it sounds too weird to you and you’ve already checked out. If I’ve still got your attention, here’s the deal: this is a world in which “cryptids” (i.e., mythological animals) live alongside humans and other non-cryptid animals. There are unicorns, gorgons, and even people with their faces on their torsos. As so often goes in these types of stories, their existence is continually threatened by the non-cryptid population that isn’t terribly keen on integration.

And so the story focuses on Lauren Grey (Lake Bell, in a role it feels like she was born to play), who is devoted to finding a safe place for cryptids in society. So she opens up a cryptozoo. (That title does not lie.) But is a zoo the best place for these creatures? Is it instead more of a “Cryptid Prison”? These are the conversations that Lauren has with other characters to make the thematic underpinnings unavoidably clear. Most cryptids just want to live their lives and get by without anybody bothering them. That’s Lauren’s goal as well, but she’s perhaps a little too trusting of the cryptozoo’s ability to achieve that mission. That can happen sometimes with idealists: distrust the current authority, place a little too much faith in the new institution. Eventually a series of scuffles break out, and the second half of this movie makes it abundantly clear that this realm is still quite a ways away from peace.

Cryptozoo is at its strongest when it allows us to just bask in the wonders of its deeply imaginative world. If the entire movie were just characters walking and talking and debating while various cryptids frolicked in the background, then I would be a happy customer. That is the vibe we get for the first half hour or so. It all kicks off with a prologue in which a horny couple has an unfortunate encounter with a unicorn, which isn’t literally the walking and talking that I’ve just described, but it does offer the same world-building energy. Then right after the prologue we do get plenty of those conversation sequences. But on the other hand, the battle scenes, while just as detailed in their animation, don’t quite have the same soul-enriching oomph. But on the whole, this is visionary animated cinema that is well worth checking out.

Cryptozoo is Recommended If You Like: Cool World, Heavy Metal, X-Men

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Cryptids