At the root of the Jurassic World franchise — even moreso than Jeff Goldblum’s “life finds a way” utterance or his iconic, heaving chest — is a cautionary tale of bad decisions made by mankind and the hubris that follows. These humans simply cannot resist theme-park-ing homicidal dinosaurs and genetically engineering breeds while imagining that they won’t bite back if given the chance. Well, they always seize the opportunity, and one can hardly blame them. I’d be incensed as a massive reptile if puny humans tried to cramp my style, too, but this franchise’s audience knows the drill, and that’s why they show up. Somehow, watching characters ooh-and-ah over cute little baby dinosaurs, who rapidly reach adulthood and terrorize all who dare to tread upon Isla Nublar, never gets old, nor does watching a peaceful, idealistic sight like this one…
…transform into a threatening spectacle like this one. Yep, the Indominus Rex, the Mosasaurus, and the Carnosauris are all at it again.
Fortunately, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (which by now, you realize is an animated spinoff) is wise enough to insert some Velociraptors as well, including an obligatory cameo from Blue. To do less would be unforgivable, since this is essentially a Clone Wars equivalent: a canon offering meant to tide over audiences while they wait for the sixth franchise feature-length offering, Jurassic World: Dominion, to arrive. Considering that this Netflix original’s visuals arrive courtesy of DreamWorks Animation (at the behest of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment), this series is even more striking at times than the live-action set pieces. With Steven Spielberg, Colin Trevorrow, and Frank Marshall as executive producers, this series means business.
The end result is more family-friendly than what we’re used to from the PG-13 films, but it continues the fine tradition of scaring kids’ pants off. Still, there’s a good chance that they’ll also enjoy watching dinosaurs stalk humans afresh because the six teenage characters — all shipped off for a summer camp billed as the opportunity of a lifetime — of this series are worth rooting for. Granted, they’re mostly not wild about each other from the beginning but must band together when sh*t hits the fan. It’s also worth noting that the human characters are drawn in a relatively basic way, so the dinosaurs are what’s visually popping, along with lush surroundings. Overall, it’s a gorgeously rendered show with views from tree-top cabins and zip-line adventures aplenty.
Bioluminescence, man. It’s a little bit trippy at times, and DreamWorks (of How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and so on) was clearly the animation studio for this gig. The show looks wonderful, but it’s worth stressing that this can be an intense watch at times (with teens having no Chris Pratt to dig the characters out of trouble) and probably a little too much for the youngest kids out there. I certainly wouldn’t let this series act as a babysitter, unless said kids are already quite familiar with the movies.
The biggest question for our purposes, though, is whether the adults will dig this series. I do believe many will appreciate the effort (and visuals that are better than Clone Wars and Rebels), unless you really need some curse words with your dinosaurs. Again, it’s canon with developments (and uncovered secrets) relevant to the franchise (it takes place at about the same time as the first Jurassic World flick), so it’s worth watching on that note. The eight episodes are breezy (less than half an hour apiece) and barrel into each other with momentum as the teens whirl across the island in an attempt to survive. Before one knows it, cliffhanger upon cliffhanger turns into a bingewatch.
There’s another bonus here: the teens might even remind people of 1980s John Hughes movies. So at first, they’ll appear as two-dimensional stereotypes (athlete, popular social-media maven, basketcase, and so on) who are mildly unlikeable, but they gain depth and emotional range once they must start working together. They’re a diverse bunch, both culturally and regarding their chosen pursuits, and it’s actually pretty enjoyable to watch a group of resilient teens take matters into their own hands when all the adults were dumb enough to (1) Send them to a “luxurious” island camp full of absolutely lethal creatures; and (2) To breed these creatures in the first place.
Even with an adorable Ankylosaurus on the scene, we all know what to expect here: potential nightmare fuel. That’s always the case with the movies, and the spirit stays alive in the animated counterpart. The show earns the attention of devotees, and it might even be a worthwhile introduction to the movies for adults who haven’t watched any of the movies. It’s not a massive time investment and definitely doesn’t feel like one, and it’s a pleasant (although intense) diversion. For sure, Isla Nublar is also a fitting place to get lost while rooting for humans to escape incredibly visible threats, and forgetting about the invisible one stalking the world today.
Netflix’s ”Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous’ streams on September 18.