Netflix’s Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous opens on a kid running for his life. He watches his guide get eaten by velociraptors before he himself is swallowed by a T-Rex. It turns out it was just a VR video game, but that kind of represents the whole series: Children being “safely” traumatized.
It’s hard to figure out the deal with Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. Even after watching the entire eight-episode season, I’m still at a loss—because I honestly can’t tell if this is supposed to be for kids. It is so violent! I don’t recall another family show that regularly pits unarmed and unsupervised children against fleets of man-eating predators. It’s kind of wild. But it’s rare to find a modern children’s show that trusts its audience to handle more intense subject material. In that sense, it’s something to admire—even if it’s unsettling at times.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is an animated spinoff series from Netflix and DreamWorks, produced by Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow. Taking place at the same time as the events of Jurassic World, it’s about six teenagers who’ve all been invited to the inaugural week of Camp Cretaceous. The central teen is Darius (Paul-Mikél Williams), the one playing the VR game during the opening scene. He’s a fun, relatable character, obsessed with dinosaurs and chock-full of facts about them—he’s also recovering from the trauma of losing his father. The series portrays their relationship respectfully, which I appreciated.
Darius is the Charlie of this chocolate factory. He had to win a seemingly impossible contest to go to Jurassic World—whereas all the other kids got VIP invitations for being rich, connected, or influencers. However, this dynamic is never addressed. I guess that makes sense for a kids show, but it is off-putting.
The six kids have been invited for an exclusive preview of Camp Cretaceous, a summer camp right in the middle of the park. They’re being supervised by two counselors, the capable Roxie (The Good Place’s Jameela Jamil) and the borderline incompetent Dave (Scream Queens’ Glen Powell). This was one of the things that made me rip my hair out. InGen, the corporation behind Jurassic World, is responsible for the well-being of some of the most privileged kids on the planet—including a live streamer with millions of followers, the daughter of the island’s beef supplier, and the son of an investor with his own suite inside the park—and yet they only have two counselors in charge of them? It’s inept, although par for the course when it comes to this company.
For a few days, it seems like everything is going all right. The kids explore the island, ride a zip line while surrounded by brachiosauruses, and drive those hamster ball things from Jurassic World. Through their adventures, we get some nods to the original film, including a cameo from Blue and an appearance by Dr. Henry Wu (not voiced by BD Wong, sadly). The luscious Jurassic Park score crescendos as the kids gaze in wonder at the dinos, and dammit if it won’t get you every time. But not an episode goes by without at least one kid being put in mortal danger, and that includes before the park goes to hell. Because by the time we’re midway through the season, the horrors of Jurassic World (the movie) show themselves and the kids spend the rest of the season fleeing for their lives without adult supervision or plot convenience.
Let me give you a warning: If you’re not comfortable with your kids watching Jurassic World, do not let them watch Camp Cretaceous. I’m not saying this to deter people from watching altogether, because I think there’s a lot to enjoy, I just want folks to go in with the right information. It’s one thing to watch superheroes battling villains, Penny escaping Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget, or the dogs of Paw Patrol rescuing someone from a fire. Those feature kids with some kind of power, gadget, or adult to help them out. This is a show where six kids live in peril, scared and alone, narrowly escaping the jaws of death over and over as they’re attacked and maimed. And yes, they watch people die too. You never see the bodies, thank God, but you do see and hear the carnivores during their murders. It’s a show that asks a lot of its audience, particularly its younger audience, so it’s best to go in knowing what to expect.
The kids work to find their way out of Jurassic World, coming together to face the unknown (and even the Indominus Rex) all the while some of them are harboring dangerous secrets from the others. It was great to see them working as a team, but the show does go about it in a unique way—continuing to remind the audience that these kids were forced together and, if they had a choice, they probably would have gone their separate ways. It’s a mature angle that kids shows don’t often take, as they usually have characters jumping into “go team go!” mode pretty quickly. I found all the kids enjoyable, albeit some more than others. Surprisingly, one of my favorites was the influencer Brooklynn (Jenna Ortega), who had some great scenes that showed her depth. And even though the animation in this show isn’t stellar, all the voice acting was solid.
The first season ends on a cliffhanger that, to be honest, blew my fucking mind. I couldn’t stop talking about it for days (just ask my hapless coworkers). It sets the stage for Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous to continue its trajectory of being quite possibly the most (bloodlessly) violent kids show on television. It’s a fascinating watch, but not always a fun one. Kids might enjoy seeing their peers always getting in and out of danger. But as an adult, all I kept thinking was: “Why is this happening and who can I sue?”
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous debuts this Friday on Netflix.
- A cool detail: In the VR game, we see the first-person character fall down and the ground was pixelated. I just thought that was a nice touch.
- One of the characters to keep an eye on is Ben (Sean Giambrone), the “nerdy kid” who lives in constant fear of bugs, sun, and dinosaurs. He seems like a stereotypical geek trope, but there’s something else under the surface I can’t figure out. In my notes I called him an “enigma.” I think future seasons might reveal there’s more to his story than we know.
- I can’t think of any current animated kids shows that are as violent and peril-filled as this one. The closest comparisons I could think of might be The Witches, Goosebumps, or the Jumanji cartoon, but this show might be in a league of its own nowadays.
- There are many Stupid Adult Moments™ in this show, but the biggest one has to be when the camp counselors decide to punish Darius and rich boy Kenji (Ryan Potter) by leaving them to shovel dinosaur poop while all the other kids go on a science lab field trip. They left two children alone, unsupervised, in a jungle where dinosaurs wander around long enough to leave their shit behind. Surprise no surprise, they nearly get eaten.
- If for no other reason, this park should absolutely be closed on grounds of child endangerment.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.