Camp Cretaceous

Editor’s note: spoilers

Camp Cretaceous‘ first season arrived on Netflix last week. It’s not only better than you expect, it’s substantially better than the movie it happens just to the left of.

The series follows a group of children who are the first to test out Jurassic World’s summer camp. Dairus Bowman (Paul-Mikél Williams) is a dinosaur fantastic and quietly grieving. Ben Pincus (Sean Giambrone) is a quiet, sensitive kid who is perpetually terrified. Yaz Fadoula (Kausar Mohammed) is a future track star who scored a spot because Jurassic World are her sponsor. Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega) scored her spot because she’s an influencer with a massive following. Kenji Kon (Ryan Potter) got his because his family are rich. Finally, Sammy Gutierrez (Raini Rodriguez) is the daughter of the main beef supplier for the island.

The idea is simple; the kids will get glad-handed, word will spread about how great the park is, camp counsellors Roxie (an excellent Jamella Jamil) and Dave (Glen Powell going 850 percent ‘BRUH!’) will get promoted and everyone goes home happy.

Literally none of those things happen. Which is why the series is so good.

The writers and actors alike elevate the kids from their thumbnails instantly. Williams’ Darius is fragile, unsure, and kind of angry about that. Potter’s Kenji talks all the time so he can’t hear himself think. Ortega’s Brooklynn is slowly realizing she and her fans have a toxic relationship. Rodriguez’s Sammy is so cheery and bluff that you know she’s hiding something from the moment she arrives. Even Giambrone’s Ben is revealed to have hidden depths and, in the seventh episode, gets the clear highlight of the season. You’ll know it when you see it, trust me.

The group are fractious, cautious, thrown together and Kenji and Darius especially are a really interesting look at how kids sometimes become friends despite having no idea why. Likewise Sammy’s evolution over the series and, best of all, the fact no one’s okay all the time.

The series never, once, forgets these characters are children. They argue. They make terrible decisions. They keep trying. They never leave anyone behind. Even at the end of the series they may not quite be friends but they’re certainly a team.

The sheer strength of the character dynamic and acting is more than enough to hold the show together but it’s also blessed with a writers room that have a clear love for the franchise they’re orbiting.  Episode 3, ‘The Cattle Drive’ is an early highlight as the kids get involved in putting the dinosaurs back in their night paddocks. It of course goes absolutely wrong. But the direction by Zesung Kang and script by Rick Williams not only evolves the kids’ relationships but reminds us, constantly, of how majestic the dinosaurs are and how inconceivably dangerous the park is. It’s both an early warning and a season highlight.

Because as the series progresses, Jurassic World begins happening and things go even more sideways. The kids, left alone owing to an understandable decision by the counselors, find themselves fleeing across the park, encountering the I-Rex, witnessing Masrani’s crash and being menaced by a flock of pteranodon. The action is constant and inventive with my favorites being a beat with a death slide and the sequence shown above.

Taken from Episode 6 “Welcome to Jurassic World” directed by Michael Mullen and scripted by Zack Stentz it’s a moment of grace that reminds you of the beauty of these animals. The kids are sideswiped by that awe, and so is the audience, a welcome breather in the constant rollercoaster of the final episodes. And also a subtle reminder that despite what certain people say, there is more to this franchise than running and screaming. That’s really, truly borne out by the way the season finishes. No spoilers here, but let’s just say the kids are alright. They’re going to need to be.

Camp Cretaceous is ambitious, clever, action packed and does things you will never see coming. It’s a high watermark not just for western animation but for the often-troubled franchise of which it’s a part.

Clever, ambitious, and with a surprising spread of light and dark moments, it’s available on Netflix now.

This was initially published in the 25th September edition of my newsletter, The Full Lid. Check here for the archive.