All this makes for a film that feels like walking through another’s dream, essentially putting us in Preble’s precisely tied dress shoes. We walk in as curious observers, but walk out dizzy from the wonders found within another’s mind. Simply put, “Strawberry Mansion” is sensational, strange, and sophisticatedly sweet.
Also offering a dreamlike atmosphere to Next is Dash Shaw’s “Cryptozoo,” an animated adventure inspired by legendary beasts and his wife Jane Samborski’s all-female “Dungeons & Dragons” group. With Dash as writer/director and Samborski as animation director, the couple spent five years creating a party of heroes, questing to save cryptids from a brutal black market that would strip them for parts and a merciless mercenary who’d sell them to the military as weapons. While much of the human world thinks things like unicorns, dragons, and centaurs are figures of fiction, Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell) knows they are real and in need of allies. Her dream is to introduce these incredible creatures to the world, via Cryptozoo. Think Jurassic Park for mythical critters. Intended as a sanctuary, this yet to open attraction could be a safe space for humans and cryptids to interact peaceably.
As such, Lauren dedicates herself to tracking down cryptids in the wild so they might be protected in her captivity. Questions of exploitation and capitalist corruption are raised by cryptid cohort, Phoebe (Angeliki Papoulia), a gorgon who passes as human with the help of colored contacts, a headscarf, and snake tranquilizers. Yet their political arguments must be put aside as they seek an uncovered Baku (a Japanese tabir that eats nightmares). Lauren, Phoebe, and friends must find this mythic animal before it’s captured by nefarious forces.
With globe-trekking, action sequences aplenty, and a panoply of fantastical creatures, the concept could suit a big-budget blockbuster on par with “Godzilla vs. Kong.” However, distinctive elements make this deeply art house terrain, including a frankness about full-fronted nudity and an animated orgy scene. Besides adult content, Shaw employs a simplistic animation style that is far from commercial. His characters are two-dimensional figures with abrupt articulation and reserved expression. Their surroundings are splotches of watercolor or marker scratches that give the impression of forests or caves. By contrast, great care was granted into creating the cryptids, many of which are far more detailed in color and line than the human characters. This reflects the majesty of these creatures, giving a sense of how Lauren views her incredible quarry.