Historically, the quality of TV spinoffs makes it difficult to approach Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous with much enthusiasm. Not much was expected out of the show from us at THS. So the new guy (me) got his hands on it.
It’s also rare for a spinoff to invoke similar emotions from a fanbase as its cinematic inspiration. Having budget restrictions, viewing limitations and different creative teams typically leads to inferior results. You only need a short scroll through a streamer’s catalog to notice this truth: For every Mandalorian, there’s ten Iron Fists wallowing in dashed hopes and mediocrity.
And at first, Camp Cretaceous dangles over these pitfalls like a crushed SUV from a tree branch. But if you can power through the first three episodes of horrendous character development, a solidly entertaining story unfolds. It’s like a dilophosaurus frill… without the toxic finish.
Hey Kids, Wanna Fire Up Some Bronto-Burgers On The ol’ Propaneosaurus?
The multiple boxes worth of candles on my recent birthday cake are evidence I’m not Camp Cretaceous’ target demographic. I was left wondering who the target demographic was. And this was three episodes in.
Logic would assume an animated series revolving around tweens and camp would appeal to… you know, tweens. Instead, Camp Cretaceous’ first three episodes bog down with bad dad jokes like a Jeep axle-deep in jungle mud. Midway through episode 2, I was half-expecting a T-Rex in white cross-trainers and jorts to invite the campers over for Sunday barbecue.
Speaking of the campers: As main characters go for a Spielberg joint, they’re not Willie Scott-level terrible. But they’re not far off. Save for the protagonist Darius (voiced by Paul-Mikel Williams), the Camp Cretaceous group are unlikable, one-dimensional tween stereotypes from the drop. The last I recall something so gag-inducing in Jurassic Park, Laura Dern dug for poisonous berries shoulder-deep in it.
Don’t Mess with the Triceratops, Young Man — You’ll Get the Horns!
But if you can get through all that… stuff, the second half enthralls. From episode 4 forward, Camp Cretaceous follows the classic Jurassic Park formula: Dinosaurs kill, smart dinosaurs hunt. It’s why King Kong scares, but Michael Myers frightens; A two-ton gorilla doesn’t make you sleep with a night light.
Camp Cretaceous spends the final five episodes accomplishing both scare and fright. The most suspenseful scenes are wildly riveting, like its cinematic counterpart. Granted, it isn’t as gory as the movies, but there are moments that’ll surely cause couch liftoff.
The suspense is to be expected; It’s not like Amblin’s planning on eight episodes of Indominous Rex reciting state capitals in song. What is unexpected is the grounded message of friendship during and after adversity. Without spoilers, this realistic storytelling is a welcome departure to the happily-ever-after trope of cartoons past. Yes, the message is rather reminiscent of a classic teen movie’s subtext (as is much of the interaction between the campers.) But it’s a subtext which has me looking forward to its further development in future seasons—something I didn’t anticipate before watching.
So, Should You Visit Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous?
On its surface, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous can be discounted as a merchandising-heavy cash grab before the next movie releases. Its first three episodes reinforce that notion with subpar development and teeth-grindingly awful characters. Example: Sami (voiced by Raini Rodriguez) is so terrible, her director notes must’ve included the phrase “Think Woody’s drawstring voicebox, but more bumpkin!”
But even with the multitude of first-half flaws, Camp Cretaceous delivers when the menacing lizards assert their dominance (as is tradition). It even delivers a grounded, realistic message on camaraderie under pressure that should resonate with both parents and kids.
It might not keep your baby dinos from pulling up their hoodies when exiting your red-and-khaki Jeep at school. But Camp Cretaceous is entertaining enough to engage your kids into your dino-loving nerddom.
And in the words of the aforementioned classic teen movie, does that answer your question?