While Star Wars and Marvel properties have received many story entries across multiple entertainment platforms, for better or for worse, the Jurassic Park franchise has mostly stuck to the silver screen. Well, for the first time the series is breaking out of films and rampaging onto streaming platforms with Netflix’s animated series ‘Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous’.
The show tells the story of six teenagers at an exclusive dinosaur summer camp. As such, the episodes are set during the events of Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 Jurassic World, with the events of the film referenced in the show. For those who haven’t seen the movie, things go about the same as you’d expect from any Jurassic Park endeavor. The dinosaurs escape, and our heroes have to survive and find their way to safety. While the first couple of episodes focus on the camp side of things, halfway through them the story turns as the dinosaurs break loose and our campers have to find a way to work together to evade them.
We see the story through the perspective of Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams), a self-proclaimed Dino-nerd who got his ticket to the camp through beating a dinosaur survival virtual reality game. Naturally, he’s best suited to experiencing the camp and later evading the predators, so he serves as the heart of the story. He generally provides the best ideas for survival and useful advice for the other campers along the way. And since they are not as Dino-savvy as he is, boy do they need it. Between social media influencer Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega), rich kid Kenji (Ryan Potter), ranch hand Sammy (Raini Rodriguez), anxiety-prone Ben (Sean Giambrone), and introverted track star Yazmina (Kausar Mohammed), all of the campers have reasons for being brought to the camp. Supervising them are the competent yet underprepared counselors Roxie (Jameela Jamil) and Dave (Glen Powell).
At first, only Darius shows any real character depth. The other campers initially come off stock characters, existing as foils to his desire to fit in and make friends. Each of them has a basic character goal or problem to overcome, and over time the show explores the nuances of these. By the end, each of the campers is able to set aside their loud personality trait or issue and work together as part of a team, learning to trust each other despite their eccentricities.
It’s worth noting that Camp Cretaceous is ostensibly a show for kids, and each of the problems that the individual campers have to reckon with are ones likely familiar to most teens. That being said, the show isn’t an after school special, nobody suddenly finds the solution to their problem and becomes a perfect human being. Rather, it explores the ways that people can become work as a team, which dovetails nicely with the core story of survival. The fact that Darius is a Dino-nerd also happens to provide a nice educational element, as his knowledge of dinosaurs both helps the group survive and provides fun Dino facts. There are some fun meta-jokes here, as Darius corrects a fellow camper that there are no Brontosaures on Jurassic Park, “a common misconception.” In the original Jurassic Park film, Tim mistakes a Brachiosaurus for a Brontosaurus.
While kids may be the primary audience for Camp Cretaceous, it’s enjoyable for anyone, especially fans of the Jurassic Park series. Like the aforementioned example, the show has several nods to the other works in the series. Several major characters from the original trilogy and new soon-to-be trilogy get name-dropped, and one makes a small appearance. All in all, Camp Cretaceous’s best asset is its world-building. Several of these references expand on the lore of the series, as we find out how people from outside the park found out about Jurassic World and what they knew about the original doomed park. By virtue of the show taking place across eight episodes, we see more of the park than ever before and get a real sense of the ecology of it that prior installments often lacked.
As Dr. John Hammond says in the original Jurassic Park, the park designers “spared no expense.” The same cannot be said about the design of Camp Cretaceous. Expenses were spared, specifically around the animation of the human characters. Each of them has that glossy look akin to characters from the GameCube era, with texture-less facial features and a finite number of expressions. That being said, the animation budget went into the dinosaurs instead, which all look top-notch. We can see the scars of dinosaurs after they’ve fought each other, the dilation of their pupils as they hunt for prey, and the scaly textures of their bodies.
While it’s obvious that the animation budget was lacking, the animators definitely applied their resources wisely. After all, we come to the Jurassic Park series to see Dinos, not people. Not only do the dinosaurs look great, but the way in which the show slowly reveals them, through sound and glimpses before full-sight, actually makes a few of them as intimidating as those in the original film.
The limited design of the human characters gets offset by the great vocal performances of the cast. Jameela Jamil, who provoked laughs as Tahani on The Good Place, utilizes her witty deadpan to similar effect here as Roxie. All of the actors for the kids do a great job conveying their unique character traits while reliably portraying fear and panic. When you’re in a Jurassic Park installment, you have to do a lot of screaming after all. Though the dialogue and jokes are sometimes a little hokey, the cast sells them with conviction (or the requisite ironic detachment) in making the characters feel like actual teenagers.
So how does Camp Cretaceous stack up against the Jurassic Park films? Overall, pretty well. It isn’t required viewing for the films by any means, but if you’re a big fan of the Jurassic Park movies it’s a must-watch. Personally I actually preferred it over the 2015 Jurassic World, which showed off a huge working theme park but reduced it to a disaster quickly and succinctly. This is more the fault of the nature of film, rather than the actual film itself. With an eight-episode series, Camp Cretaceous gets to explore how Jurassic World worked in the first place, what it was trying to be, and how it gradually went back into the hands, or claws, of the dinosaurs inhabiting it. Along the way, we get an adventure about six very different kids, and while they come off a bit one-note at first, the thrill is seeing the unique, strong personalities work together to survive.
Camp Cretaceous adds a new entry into the world of Jurassic Park, fleshing out the world-building of the franchise while telling a fun and sometimes nail-biting story of six campers trying to avoid getting eaten by dinosaurs. It doesn’t reinvent the series, the park still goes to the Dinos, but the show dips into all the elements that made Jurassic Park a great thrill ride to begin with.
- Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous