Who needs “Jurassic World: Dominion”? (Well, actually, I could use a little “Jurassic World: Dominion.” Or any big franchise movie. But that’s not to be in 2020. So the sixth “Jurassic Park” movie is now slated for 2022.) But helping tide us over rather nicely is the animated “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” (September, Netflix) (no, not “Camp Crustacean” … dumb autocorrect). This eight-episode season (with a second season already announced) is nominally aimed at children but will also appeal to some of us who got hooked on this franchise 30 years ago with Michael Crichton’s novel.
As we follow six well-drawn (in both senses of the word) tweens in an adventure concurrent with 2015’s “Jurassic World,” the Crichton vibe is a subtle but noticeable undercurrent. Camp counselors Roxie and Dave seemingly abandon the kids during the dino outbreak of the film, turning “He left us! He left us!” up another notch. (Really, they are trying to get back to the kids, but the kids don’t know that.)
Although creator Zack Stentz and his team don’t directly crib from Crichton’s books, I get a sense of the vastness of the island and the empty buildings and non-functioning technology. Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” although a classic, doesn’t have the scope of the book. “Jurassic World” completed the park of Crichton’s mind’s eye, but we mostly see it packed with people. TV’s “Westworld” gives us the creepily vast, empty infrastructure, but it doesn’t have dinosaurs.
“Camp Cretaceous” allows for the feel of Crichton’s world, and peppers in some references that may or may not be direct – for example, an underground river ride – complete with phosphorescent parasaurolophuses! – and the kids’ desire to get to “the docks.”
Embarrassingly, I didn’t realize right away that this takes place concurrent with “JW.” When Masrani’s helicopter crashes into the aviary, I thought it was a too-direct riff from the film. I went with it, thinking, “So the indominus rex and a bunch of pteranodons escape … twice? OK, I’ll go with it.” After all, the whole saga has a measure of “just go with it,” since every film (and the comics) repeats the same plot.
The reason for my disconnect is that this is Season 1 of an animated series, so the team hasn’t built up the full range of assets (characters, dinosaurs, buildings, plants) that would be ideal. We never see the huge crowds of people evacuating Isla Nublar. As the series continues, Jurassic World will become more vibrant – but not with crowds of people, since it will likely be about the kids stranded on the island (shades of those “Jurassic Park III” spinoff books I haven’t read).
“Camp Cretaceous” is a great-looking show out of the gates, getting its drama from the kids evading various dinosaurs. (The camp seems to be a pricey offshoot of the main park. But this sextet comes from all walks of life. Kenji is the son of a rich Masrani board member, but Darius, for example, won a video-game contest, and Yasmina is a talented runner who is sponsored by Jurassic World.)
You have to admit it’s funny that there’s a cartoon about kids being chased by velociraptors, an indominus rex, a carnotaurus and a mosasaur. Sure, this is what we want out of a “JP” show, but it’s a weird because we know none of the writers are gonna deliver a teleplay where one of the kids gets eaten; not even the annoying kid. Through five movies, that hasn’t happened. Rather remarkably, adult Jurassic World workers do get eaten in “CC,” but it always happens off screen.
(The off-screen kills owe to the fact that this is a kids show. And yet there are enough nods to the “JP” films that I think they’re assuming kids have watched the movies. I’m not good at guessing the proper age range for “CC,” but my friend’s 3-year-old watched episode one and was uninterested — but apparently not scarred for life. Around episode four, when the meat-osauruses start to fill their bellies, I thought it would be inappropriate for little kids. In some ways, this show might be scarier than the movies, since we’re talking entirely about kids in peril.)
The chases and evasions are fun, with the carnotaurus as the main nemesis. (Sadly, she doesn’t turn invisible. Is that only a thing from the books?) There’s only a smidgen of tension, sure, but we get the simple joy of seeing a wonderfully rendered array of dinosaurs.
And, although the writers lay it on pretty thick (owing to their young audience), the personality mix and camaraderie of the tweens is a legitimate hook. Much of the drama centers on farm gal Sammy stealing pink-haired vlogger Brooklynn’s cellphone. It turns out Sammy is an honest-to-god spy, a kiddie answer to Nedry – or Dodgson from Crichton’s “The Lost World” – but working for Mantah Corp. instead of BioSyn. (I’d say there’s a 10 percent chance Mantah Corp. is a nod to Manticore from “Dark Angel” – a tip of the cap from Spielberg to James Cameron.)
The best character, though, is a dinosaur: timid Ben’s pet ankylosaurus, Bumpy. She’s the cutest animal from a sci-fi franchise since Melo, the grumpy Converter in “Valerian.” Now, I’m not saying I’ve looked to see if there is a plush Bumpy available, but … (OK, I have checked. There isn’t yet. But there is a “CC” action figure line.)
Obviously, “CC” is a commercial product. But what’s remarkable is how overdue it is. There should’ve been a “JP” cartoon in the 1990s. Still, the timing ends up working out, as the animation of the dinosaurs here is not much different than what we see in the films. If the camera didn’t cut back to the kids, and if the vistas weren’t on the sparse side, I’d think I was watching a “JP” film.
So yeah, don’t stop making “Dominion.” But until then, “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” will tide me over nicely.