After winning a video-game competition, dino-mad kid Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams) finds himself part of the first cohort for the inaugural test-run of a new Jurassic World attraction: a sleepover camp for teenagers. But when the Indominus Rex escapes confinement and destroys the park, Darius and his fellow campers face a fight for survival.
With The Clone Wars and Rebels, Star Wars proved that youth-skewing animated series don’t have to just be for kids. It’s a shame, then, that Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous – the first animated show set in the ongoing dino saga – is a blockbuster spin-off that only younger viewers will enjoy.
There’s promise in the premise. Set concurrently with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (and exec-produced by Trevorrow, Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall), the series offers a new perspective on the Indominus Rex’s chaos-spiralling rampage, leaving a group of young campers stranded on Isla Nublar with dinosaurs everywhere and no adult supervision. Fans will enjoy spotting familiar locations and moments that intersect with World’s set-pieces – from Owen Grady’s Velociraptor paddock (complete with Blue cameo), to the giant Mosasaur feeding pool.
The characters are forced into dangerous dinosaur encounters by unconvincing writing that contrives to get them into harm’s way.
But that promise is squandered on a series of deeply unlikeable characters. Sweet-natured lead Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams) aside, the young gang – ranging from a self-centred social-media star (Jenny Ortega), to a self-centred rich kid (Ryan Potter), via a whiny loner (Sean Giambrone) who hates the outdoors – are drawn in thin stereotypes and forced dialogue, delivered in gratingly over-egged vocal performances. Moreover, they’re forced into dangerous dinosaur encounters by unconvincing writing that contrives to get them into harm’s way. Their actions simply don’t ring true, even when subterfuge, regarding one camper’s hidden agenda, creates more genuine conflict.
Most damagingly, the characters are animated with a crude simplicity, all the more surprising for the fact that the production values are strong elsewhere – the dinosaurs are much more impressively rendered than the humans, especially the Carnotaurus (who gets the biggest showing here as the campers’ greatest threat) and an adorable baby Ankylosaurus nicknamed ‘Bumpy’, while the music borrows familiar cues from John Williams and Michael Giacchino’s Park and World scores.
While the final episode of Camp Cretaceous injects a much-needed sense of genuine peril (and offers glimmers of promise that a second season could make necessary tonal adjustments), the characters make the journey there a struggle — and with no chance that any of the more irritating campers will be chomped by the Indominus Rex, they’re not even good dino-fodder.
It bagged the same PG rating as Spielberg’s original, but Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous disappointingly limits its own appeal to younger viewers only. After careful consideration, we’ve decided not to endorse this Camp.