Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is a strange beast. On the surface, the animated Netflix series appears to be a safe, inoffensive expansion of the Jurassic Park universe wrapped up in a kids’ show. Dig a little deeper, however, and it turns into a dark adventure that’s unsuitable for young children. It will wow Jurassic Park fans but is unlikely to appeal to anyone outside that (gyro)sphere.
Camp Cretaceous follows a group of teenagers who are given the opportunity to tour the facilities and fauna of Isla Nublar, the same island seen in the first Jurassic World. For the show’s formative episodes, there’s not much depth to the teens, though their broad stroke personalities make for an entertaining and often fiery dynamic.
Kenji is the overconfident egotist rich kid; Brooklynn, the prototypical influencer who deals in unboxing and vlogging; Yaz, the most athletic of the bunch; the brash Texan Sammy, and the scaredy-cat Ben. They are shepherded across Nubar by the goofy counsellors Dave and the Jameela Jamil-voiced Roxie. As you can imagine, they all clash to good effect, with Ben and a cutesy dinosaur he later finds, Bumpy, quickly becoming the group’s real emotional core. I would die for Bumpy – and you will too.
The lead, Darius, is the strongest character. Like Ms. Marvel in the recent game Marvel’s Avengers, he is a fanboy first and foremost – making both his and the audience’s ties to the world of the dinosaur’s that much greater. He gets the greatest amount of backstory out of the campers, with some particularly heartfelt flashbacks to time being spent with his dying Dad.
Taking place before and then concurrently with the events of 2015’s Jurassic World (one hilarious running gag sees the counsellors trying to get hold of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Clare Dearing, who clearly was never going to appear in a spin-off animated Netflix series), the story doesn’t stray much from typical Saturday morning cartoon fare for the opening half of the eight-episode first season. Teenagers butt heads, lessons are learned, and the status quo often remains by the end of the half hour.
The cartoonish nature of the series will be undeniably off-putting to some. It’s not helped by an animation style that can charitably be described as sterile and obviously did not have the same budget as other Dreamworks pictures. When the campers are more dead-eyed than the dinosaurs, then that’s a problem. It has to be said, though, that a couple of sequences – including one in an underground cave with glow-in-the-dark dinos – look particularly striking and rank among the franchise’s finest spectacles, even if the show rarely reaches those heights again.
Despite all this, by the halfway mark, there’s a real tonal whiplash. Much like 1993’s Jurassic Park, Camp Cretaceous stretches that PG rating. It can’t be stressed enough: if you’re watching with children then expect several set-pieces to potentially upset them. One sees a member of the park get savaged (off-screen) by a roaming dinosaur which is surprisingly near the knuckle for something that is framed as something aimed more at a younger audience.
The darker overtones do lead to some stronger narrative moments. The seventh episode in particular marks the point where the characters, having spent enough time caked in mud and on the run from various prehistoric creatures, finally stop the bickering and arguing that punctuates much of the show. Instead of being teeth-gratingly obnoxious, they become endearing – and it’s to the show’s credit that they eventually reach that point despite a few opening misfires.
Jurassic World fans will also appreciate the various nods to the movie. Major moments from Colin Trevorrow’s first film in the sequel trilogy (he’s attached to the Netflix series as executive producer) are shown from different perspectives and some dinosaurs and enclosures that Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady encounters are present here, too. From that side of things, the show is a success: it offers a more definitive, complete picture of a park in meltdown – and also leaves a few breadcrumbs that may yet be followed up in next year’s Jurassic World: Dominion.
But, ultimately, the milquetoast opening half and more mature latter half don’t quite mesh. Camp Cretaceous forms an inconsistent, if fairly watchable adventure series that borders on being a little too violent for a certain age group. A second season is (inevitably given Jurassic Park’s history of broadening its horizons) teased. If the animation style is given some polish, the kids continue to mature into more fully-formed characters, and the show perhaps aims for an older fanbase, then Camp Cretaceous could find a way to be among Netflix’s best shows, animated or otherwise.