[Review] ‘JURASSIC WORLD: CAMP CRETACEOUS’ struggles to find a, uh, life of its own

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

JURASSIC WORLD: CAMP CRETACEOUS

Rated TV-PG, about 192 minutes (24 minutes per episode).
Creator: Nick Jones Jr.
Voice cast: Paul-Mikel Williams, Jenna Ortega, Ryan Potter, Kausar Mohammad, Raini Rodriguez, Sean Giambrone, Jameela Jamil, Glen Powell and BD Wong

Folks looking for a softer entry point into the Jurassic Park/World franchise won’t necessarily find it in Netflix’s new eight-part animated series, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. Don’t be fooled by its Nick Jr.-like animation (the channel, not this show’s creator) or cast of youngsters. People are in danger, some even eaten. Not only that, but there’s an unforgivable scene involving the kids setting off an explosion that severely injures a dinosaur. Rather than use this opportunity to have a conversation about the nature of the beast (as the animal wails in pain and struggles to breathe), they celebrate it as a victory. 

Camp Cretaceous isn’t all bad. There are certainly scenes of wonder that harken back to the original 1993 film’s magical feel, especially when John Williams’ iconic score comes in to serenade the moment. However, the brat pack is a collection of thin stereotypes who are forced to deliver lines equivalent to Defensive Driving reenactment clips. With its muddled message and mostly unlikable cast (who are constantly mean to each other), there’s little to get families excited about dinosaurs.

Set synchronously with Colin Trevvorow’s 2015 Jurassic World, the series offers a new look at the chaos that reigns following the escape of the genetically modified Indominus Rex. A group of kids are welcomed to the titular sleepaway camp on the island of Isla Nublar. It’s the chance of a lifetime to soak up the awe that comes with seeing dinosaurs roam the lands and understand the park’s functionality. However, just like the other franchise stories, things go south, and the visitors must leave before they become dino snacks.

Admittedly, the first half of the series is exceptionally better than the second. Even though the characters irritate you with their conceited, whiny, and selfish personalities, the show pumps the brakes a time or two to admire the scenery and the creatures within. One scene of the kids zip-lining across the park gives warm and fuzzy feelings, as do other areas set in familiar locations.

But one of the most significant problems with the series is how it always feels the need to lay down an obstacle rather than pivot to a deeper discussion like the central one featured in The Breakfast Club. Some issues do come to light along the journey, mostly involving two of the kids’ parents. Those issues and internal battles could have brought enough steam to power in a new and satisfying direction. Instead, we face one moment of intensity after the next, and to the point where one of the characters makes a joke about it.

That said, at least the show gives some weight to the main protagonist, Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams), a good-natured boy who wins his golden ticket after completing a challenging VR game. Camp Cretaceous does give Darius proper focus as he sorts through a tragic event from his past and the conflict that arises in being a leader. His character arc is the most compelling. 

There was so much promise with this new series. We’ve seen the destruction that can come about when you play God. Plenty goes wrong, and this franchise tends to stick to that same narrative path. The series doesn’t make a lot of real-world sense either. Characters break the rules and gamble with their lives like they barely matter. Adult supervision is practically extinct. The older characters have about as much intelligence as the victims in a Friday the 13th movie. 

Camp Cretaceous was a chance to tell something bigger, explore meaningful life lessons, and display compassion (in a world where we need more of it). Unfortunately, we’re left with a tonally inconsistent debut season that does little to push the needle.

Grade: C+

JURASSIC WORLD: CAMP CRETACEOUS is now available to stream on Netflix.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.