The first season of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, the animated spin-off series set around and during the events of the 2015 film Jurassic World, recently debuted on the streaming service Netflix. This marks the first release of a series that is a canon-confirmed part of the Jurassic Park universe, with Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow (directors of 1993’s Jurassic Park and 2015’s Jurassic World, respectively) working as executive producers of the show. Set across eight 24-minute episodes, the first season proves to be an intriguing addition to the franchise, but is it worth the watch? Read on to find out. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
In short, Camp Cretaceous is most certainly worth watching. Its animated visuals are strikingly different from the live-action movies; the shifted focus onto its adolescent protagonists fending for themselves rather than relying on finding adult help is a refreshing change; and the dinosaurs (along with other prehistoric reptiles) retain their ability to be both awe-inspiring and horrifying at times. The episodes also tend to end on a cliff-hanger, making the series binge-worthy in its own right. As for the target audience, while the animated and youth-centric nature of Camp Cretaceous may make it seem child-oriented, the show is in fact suited to any fan of the Jurassic Park franchise. It is mostly very well written and there are some genuinely tense moments, like when the Indominus rex hunts the teens through a maze of shipping containers, or when the group is forced to kayak over the Mosasaurus lagoon in order to reach (relative) safety. Although the details of death and associated gore are left to happen out of shot, there are people who become chew toys to some prehistoric predators, but leaving disembowelment to the viewer’s imagination could make such scenes all the more horrific.
The overarching plot of Camp Cretaceous is simple enough. A diverse group of six young teenagers becomes the first to trial a new venture at Jurassic World, known as Camp Cretaceous. The camp is designed to give its participants an adventure experience and behind the scenes look at the workings of the Jurassic World theme park. This includes a gyrosphere journey alongside a herbivore herd being guided in a ‘cattle drive’ and a visit to the genetics lab (to the displeasure of head geneticist Dr Wu). But, in true Jurassic Park fashion and in line with the 2015 film, everything falls apart when the genetically-engineered Indominus rex escapes, wreaks havoc across Isla Nublar, and starts setting other “assets” free from their enclosures (it is implied that this is with some intention). The young protagonists must then use their wits and work together to survive their animal encounters across the island, as they make their way to the docks to catch the evacuation ferries before they leave.
One of the most compelling parts of the teens’ journey is their realisation of how not even the adults can handle the situation, with one of them stating “I don’t think finding an adult is going to help.” Instead of relying on finding adult assistance, despite numerous arguments along the way, they affirm that working as a team to escape the island alive is their best bet. This is quite clearly exhibited after the first adult they find almost immediately abandons them, followed by them having to work together to evade the jaws of the Indominus in an intense game of cat-and-mouse. This signifies a refreshing take on the role of youths in the Jurassic Park franchise, as instead of being there to motivate the actions of the older heroes, the youths themselves are the protagonists of the show and they remain the main focus.
One of the group’s biggest conflicts arises from the discovery that one of them is a spy, who has been trying to gather dino DNA and classified information from the genetics lab. Upon seeing the suggestion of genetic espionage, I suspected the return of BioSyn: InGen’s rival company for whom Dennis Nedry stole the dinosaur embryos in the original Jurassic Park novel and likely the film too. Instead we are introduced to a new company, Mantah Corp. This organisation is left shrouded in mystery, so it remains to be seen if it will play a bigger part in the franchise’s future, whether it be in the second season or even in 2022’s Jurassic World: Dominion film.
Camp Cretaceous also captures something the 2015 Jurassic World film doesn’t show, and that is just how poorly managed the theme park is and how it was seemingly destined to fail eventually. The film portrays the park as a fully-functioning tourist attraction, with its own team designated to respond to emergencies, the Asset Containment Unit (ACU). Camp Cretaceous, however, demonstrates the underlying flaws of the park throughout the season. The first sign is the emergence of an escaped Compsognathus on the way to the camp. While a single ‘Compy’ may not be able to cause much damage, the 1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park film shows how deadly they can be in groups, and one of the counsellors of Camp Cretaceous casually remarks that “these things are always getting out of their enclosure.” Not exactly the most reassuring of statements for teens about to camp in this park.
The two counsellors in charge of running the camp, despite leaving the campers entirely alone, make their best efforts to find the teens once the park falls into chaos, but they never manage to reconvene with them. The fact that there are only two counsellors highlights how understaffed the camp is (even if it is a trial run), something that the head counsellor repeatedly tries to make park operations manager Claire Dearing aware of. The underground maintenance tunnels (first shown in 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) that run between different areas of the park demonstrate another management issue. Either these tunnels too are understaffed or them being left unguarded shows how keeping the tunnels secure is mismanaged, as even before the park falls apart because of the Indominus, two of the teens manage to freely move through the tunnels and sneak into the Carnotaurus enclosure. The same problem is what creates the first episode’s cliff-hanger, in which the same two teens end up inside the Velociraptor pen. Their ability to make it that far into a potentially perilous situation shows just how poorly guarded the enclosures are, making incidents like this seem practically inevitable.
The creation of the Indominus rex may have been the catalyst of Jurassic World’s downfall, but the visit to the genetics lab demonstrates how trying to play God with prehistoric genetic material isn’t something that can be clinically controlled. Dr Wu reminds us that the animals of Jurassic World are carefully designed so as to avoid imperfections in assets, but the hatching of a baby Ankylosaurus with unevenly sized horns proves that Wu’s idea of excellence isn’t always attainable. As chaotician Dr Malcolm so famously put it in the first Jurassic Park film, “life finds a way.” Such ‘flaws’ in the products of the genetics lab may be inconsequential, but it goes some way to show how the park’s scientists can’t completely control the power that they think they possess.
Thanks to it being set around the events of the Jurassic World film, the show is able to recreate and reference some key scenes from the film. The most obvious example is the animated version of the scene in which the owner of Jurassic World, Simon Masrani, pilots a helicopter in pursuit of the Indominus rex. The teens finally think they’ve found some luck, so are horrified when the pterosaurs, released from the aviary by the Indominus, cause Masrani’s helicopter to crash and burn. The group also discovers the gyrosphere that Zach and Gray (from the film) were attacked in by the Indominus, as well as the carcass of the Ankylosaurus that the Indominus killed. The latter confuses the dinosaur fanatic of the group, Darius, who remarks “predators don’t kill prey and then just leave without feeding.”
Camp Cretaceous also makes references to parts of the original Jurassic Park trilogy, including the franchise’s legacy characters. There is reference to John Hammond’s line of “spared no expense” when characters complain about park technology not working, like walkie talkies and the Wi-Fi. One of the teens sports a Hawaiian top in homage to Dennis Nedry’s colourful attire in the original Jurassic Park. Palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant (last seen in 2001’s Jurassic Park III) is revealed to still be studying dinosaur behaviour, with mention of an article about “craniofacial biting in theropods”. Dr Grant’s use of the Velociraptor resonating chamber is also alluded to when Darius uses the chamber in a virtual reality game in the first episode. Palaeobotanist Dr Ellie Sattler (also last seen in Jurassic Park III, but under her married name Degler) is said to have “posted a new column on microfossils”. Doctors Grant and Sattler are both set to return in Jurassic World: Dominion, so only time will tell if these references are throw-away lines or if they will play a part in the characters’ futures.
Finally, this review wouldn’t be complete without looking at the plethora of prehistoric fauna that star in Camp Cretaceous. The predominant antagonists that terrorise the teens are the Indominus rex and Carnotaurus (whom the group calls ‘Toro’). These two predators are a persistent threat throughout the season, and are responsible for most of the scarier scenes and suspense as they try to make a meal of the teens. The Velociraptors make a menacing but brief appearance in their pen at the start of the season, and have nothing more to do with the plot later on. The Mosasaurus also makes an appearance, in the gripping scene that sees the teens forced onto the lagoon in their kayaks. The escaped pterosaurs prove an airborne menace on more than one occasion, with them dealing a huge blow to the group in the darker final episode. Their relentless swarming attack is certainly one of the most memorable parts of the show.
Not all of the animals of Jurassic World are out to get the young group, as there are plenty of magical moments where they get to stare in awe at the majesty of the more placid prehistoric creatures. During the cattle ranch, before breaking into a stampede, the herd of gentle giants is shown to comprise Brachiosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Sinoceratops, and Stegosaurus, similarly shown as they were in Gyrosphere Valley in 2015’s Jurassic World. Parasaurolophus makes another interesting appearance when the teens are kayaking along the underground river as part of the ‘Cretaceous Cruise’ attraction. As the underground caverns are so dark, we are introduced to one of Dr Wu’s artistic liberties with his genetic works – bioluminescent Parasaurolophus. While such a decision may be a peculiar concept, it looks wonderful on screen as their glowing colours light up the cavern.
The most significant dinosaur in Camp Cretaceous is undoubtedly Bumpy the baby Ankylosaurus, who is like Jurassic World’s answer to The Mandalorian’s ‘Baby Yoda’. After imprinting on the shiest camper, Ben, upon hatching in the genetics lab, Bumpy runs into the group again in an extension of Gyrosphere Valley. She is much larger (despite being only a few days older at most) because of Dr Wu’s inclusion of an accelerated ‘growth gene’, but Ben insists that they take Bumpy with them and protect her from any predators.
In conclusion, Camp Cretaceous is a worthy addition to the Jurassic Park/World franchise, bringing a refreshing change in visuals, tone, and how it handles Jurassic World as a flawed theme park. Its few shortcomings, such as occasionally clunky dialogue, repetitive bickering, and poor pacing at times, are massively outweighed by the love it shows for the franchise’s past and how it adds to the lore too, showcasing new locations, more dinosaurs, and incorporating recurrent themes. The campers come from different walks of life, bringing multiple skill sets and perspectives to the wonders and challenges that they encounter. In doing so, the show is also able to embed moral messages regarding the value placed upon a life, accepting yourself and those around you, and perhaps most importantly, the continued resilience in the face of adversity. The need to keep going and hope that things will get better – a message we could all do with listening to in these trying times. Having just been renewed for a second season, the latest teaser promises more perilous predicaments, and a focus on other dinosaurs including the long-lived Tyrannosaurus rex, and Baryonyx (first introduced in Fallen Kingdom). Let’s hope that season two finds a way to build upon the strengths of Camp Cretaceous’ first season.
Season one of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is now available to stream on Netflix and you can find a behind the scenes look at the show on YouTube.
All images copyrighted to Netflix, Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, and Amblin Entertainment.