Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous review: A surprisingly dark ride
Ivan Radford | On 17, Jan 2021
Jurassic Park is one of the highest grossing films of the 1990s. That’s partly thanks to its winning cast, groundbreaking visual effects, iconic score and sense of sheer spectacle. But it’s also thanks to a deceptively dark streak that brings a real note of peril to the adventurous blockbusting. Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, the first official TV show to be part of the film franchise’s canon, digs into that same dangerous vein, and the result is a surprisingly exciting ride through familiar dino-territory.
The film unfolds in the same timeline as the Jurassic World movie, which takes us back the point at which InGen’s foolhardy theme park becomes overrun by its own creations. While the big screen chaos unfolds, we join a new adventure camp on the other side of the island, where a group of six teens find themselves out of sight and out of mind as they have to survive a dream gone very wrong.
Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams) is our way into the show, bringing with him a poignant backstory involving his dad and an eager enthusiasm about all things dinosaur. He’s joined by social media influencer Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega), rancher Sammy (Raini Rodriguez), the laidback Kenji (Ryan Potter) and the anxious Ben Pincus (Sean Giambrone), two sons of people connected to the park, and athletic camper Yasmina Fadoula (Kausar Mohammed). Jameela Jamil and Glen Powell also bring some charm to the roles of the adult counsellors expected to look after them all – although to say that they don’t do a very good job of that is an understatement.
There’s an enjoyably old-fashioned vibe to the resourcefulness and resilience displayed by the kids in the face of either clueless or irresponsible grown-ups, and while the animation of the humans isn’t necessarily Pixar-rivalling, the diverse ensemble do emerge as more rounded than their archetypes suggest. Crucially, that development happens through the action as well as through dialogue, with Darius and Brooklynn notably bonding over their joint efforts to stay alive in a Gyroscope and Ben growing by having no choice but to face his fears. A hidden agenda for one character does a neat job of expanding the Jurassic Park universe, but doesn’t distract from the need to continue moving and evading being eaten.
The momentum doesn’t let up, with each episode devising a cliffhanger ending to keep viewers skipping to the next chapter – and all the while reinforcing the simple narrative goal of the teens making it to the docks to catch the last ferry off the island. Along the way, showrunners Scott Kreamer (Pinky Malinky) and Aaron Hammersley (Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness) use recognisable elements from the films, such as the Mosasaurus lagoon, the monorail, the Indominus Rex and the villainous tendencies of Dr Henry Wu (here voiced by Glenn Chun). They particularly borrow the Gyrospheres, the best contribution of the Jurassic World era, and build an episode around the resulting chase sequence. There are additions that stand in their own right, too, such as a risky moment involving a zip line, a device that surprisingly hasn’t been used in the movies before.
The animation of the dinosaurs is top-notch, and there’s an impressive variety in the scaly encounters on offer, from a baby Ankylosaurus (“Bumpy”) to a flock of Pteranodon that forces the gang to go underground – where they then encounter a horde of glow-in-the-dark critters. But what really stands out is the increasingly dark tone, as the show emerges at least as perilous as its big screen cousins – we don’t see it happen, but dinosaurs do kill people here, and that knowledge of real risk helps to push the characters closer together, as they have to work with each other and find common ground to reach the shore. With a second season on the way, there are no points for guessing how many of our main heroes make it to the end credits, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll survive the next run – and that looms over events with an unexpectedly entertaining edge.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.