Welcome to Camp Cretaceous — the first-ever animated series to stomp its way into the Jurassic Park franchise and the name of the new adventure camp on Isla Nublar that’s featured within it. It’s got fierce dinosaurs, exciting locations, and a couple of incompetent counselors who are constantly losing track of the campers they aim to protect. And while this colossal kid show is predictable, it has enough entertaining action and humor to hold the attention of the young audience it was intended for.
The plot centers on Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams), a dino-savvy teenager who earns his way to Camp Cretaceous by being the first person to win a VR video game. There, he meets five other teens who, for varied reasons, also get to experience the adventure camp before the rest of the world does. There’s Kenji (Ryan Potter), a cocky rich kid who tries to take control; Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega), a famous social media streamer who is attached to her phone; Sammy (Raini Rodriguez), an enthusiastic camper who is used to ranch life; Yaz (Kausar Mohammed), an elite athlete who keeps to herself; and Ben (Sean Giambrone), an on-edge scardey-cat who struggles to acclimate to the jungle.
In the early episodes, this Breakfast Club-style group must overcome their differences and team together after landing in perilous situations that inevitably involve some ferocious dinosaurs chasing after them. However, they always end up back at the main hub to reflect on what happened and wonder what other experiences they’ll soon face together. This all changes midway through the series when the group gets separated from their two wildly irresponsible camp counselors — Roxie (Jameela Jamil) and Dave (Glen Powell) — and the teens are forced to run from the dinosaurs roaming free on the island. At this point, the episodes start to run more like a movie, loaded with a continuing plot and constant action.
The series’ looming terror keeps it rooted in its Jurassic Park origins. People scream as they get eaten off-screen, the teens are constantly getting trapped in tense situations, and every episode ends on a cliffhanger. The scary stuff is fun and fast-paced, and it has to be. There are only 8 episodes, each sitting around 22 minutes, so the writers had to fit a lot of story into a short time. While they successfully craft an engaging adventure that you’d expect to take place in the Jurassic Park universe, the way they develop the individual characters is a little shakier.
Obviously, when you have multiple teens and little time, you’re only going to get so deep into their backstories and growth. However, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the leads’ development because while the story was built up to have them confront their flaws, it ultimately doesn’t lead to many fleshed-out resolutions.
Take Brooklynn, the lifestyle streamer with millions of followers, for example. (Minor spoilers!) When we meet her, she is eager to document her trip but anxious about her falling follower count. (This is relevant to today and sets up a strong character that kids can relate to). After someone steals her phone, however, she gets even more stressed because her online popularity is literally out of her hands. When she tracks down the culprit, she is understandably angry. But after finding out their motivation for taking her phone and spending some time alone, she cools down, makes up with the phone thief, and jokes about making a new video.
Resolving Brooklynn’s flaw this way doesn’t feel satisfying because she never confronts its root — her need to be liked by people online — by instead pivoting toward her forgiveness of someone else and pushing the social media plotline to the side. And this isn’t the only time the character arcs — even when they follow a more expected path — feel somewhat unfinished or overly simplistic by the end. Kids likely won’t mind this, but adults will notice that many of the characters have basic identities that could have been more interesting had they contained an additional layer or two. Perhaps in a second season, Camp Cretaceous will make its characters feel more complete — but by the end of Season 1, their traits and conflicts are left patched-up rather than fully realized.
While I didn’t connect to the entire cast of characters like I had wanted to, Darius remains the most relatable and likable — which is welcome because he is the most prominent character of the bunch. Unlike the other kids, he wasn’t offered a place at Camp Cretaceous because of reasons like money or fame and instead had to work his way there. This — in combination with his touching personal connection to the place that is slowly revealed — is something viewers of all ages can appreciate.
Other aspects of the show I enjoyed included the lush scenery in bioluminescent caves and over the mountains at sunset; the creative “camera angles” from those within Darius’ VR game to the ones panning over the excitement; and the overarching snappy sense of adventure.
This spirited romp through the jungle will surprise and delight the young audience it was designed for. So while it probably isn’t worth going out of your way to watch on your own, it’s likely that you’ll still enjoy the brisk adventure when you sit down to stream it with the rest of the family.
How to watch: Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is now streaming on Netflix.