Much like its cloned dinosaurs, the Jurassic franchise continues to defy extinction.
Nearing its 30th anniversary, the series (based on Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) just received its very first spinoff TV series, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. Set alongside the events of the first Jurassic World movie, the animated show, developed by Zack Stentz, takes place on a different side of Isla Nublar, where the Masrani Corporation has built a high-end summer camp. A small group of teenagers get a chance to beta-test the experience, but their activities are abruptly cut short when the Indominus Rex escapes its enclosure and begins to wreak havoc around the island, setting other dinos free and snacking on humans. Camp Cretaceous adopts the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead narrative by showing us a flip side of the same coin.
*Warning! The following contains spoilers for the show!*
"It felt very clear the minute the idea came to the table, that seeing all of this through the eyes of a child, and the fears and the anxieties and all those things that we connect with childhood — to be able to take that route in to the experience just felt like the right thing," writer-director Colin Trevorrow, an executive producer of the family-friendly series alongside Steven Spielberg and Scott Kreamer, said during a press roundtable earlier in the week.
Kreamer explained that animation allowed them to make the adventure "a little more available and not quite so off-putting for a younger child. I think that just makes it a little more palatable," he added. Once that was decided, the writers had to literally reverse-engineer Jurassic World's narrative for their own purposes.
"We basically had maps all over the writers’ room, and we were watching Jurassic World on a daily basis for any clues of where our characters could be that didn’t break the canon or the continuity of the film," Kreamer revealed. "Just little clues about ‘Okay, if the Indominus is here … where can we be, and where can we intersect with either events just before or just after what we see in the film?' It was challenging, but it was a blast to do. It was like this puzzle to figure out."
Luckily, the canon was already established, which meant the crew could focus on what really mattered. "It felt like a bit of an advantage that we didn’t have to do the worldbuilding that the movie needs to do to introduce all of the rules of this park and the world in general," Trevorrow said. "We could focus on the characters, and we could delve deeper into their experience because of that shared knowledge. It sort of took a lot of the burden off of a show like this, so we could really get to know these kids."
When it comes to our heroes, Paul-Mikel Williams leads the voice cast as Darius. Unlike his fellow campers, the wide-eyed protagonist doesn't come from money or a connected family. He's just an average kid, whose passionate love for dinosaurs helps him win a video game contest that nabs him a spot at Camp Cretaceous. "I realized that this was going to be a spinoff, but then when I realized that it was going to be part of the canon, [that excitement] was multiplied by ten," Williams said during a separate cast roundtable. "My mom and I were already jumping up and down that I had booked this, and then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am in the same league as [Richard Attenborough], Chris Pratt, [and] all of these phenomenal actors that idolized this entire franchise.'"
When things go all to hell at the camp, Darius is forced to assume leadership and guide his colleagues through the perils of a theme park now controlled by its hungry, prehistoric inmates. "It speaks to the children that are watching this, because it’s saying, ‘No matter how young you are, you can still make a change, you can still make a difference in the world.’ And that’s what I love about it," Williams said.
Darius's co-campers include: Brooklynn (Jenna Oretag), a shallow social media influencer; Kenji (Ryan Potter), a spoiled rich kid; Sammy (Raini Rodriguez), the daughter of a wealthy cattle ranching family; Yaz (Kausar Mohammed), an introverted athlete; and Ben (Sean Giambrone), the germophobic son of a park employee. The adult counselors tasked with watching over them are by-the-rules Roxie (Jameela Jamil) and gung-ho Dave (Glen Powell). The eclectic cast really added a boost of diversity to the franchise, especially by putting Darius, an African American, at the forefront.
"To be one of the leading characters in such a global movement as a show like this, it’s great. Just the diversity of all the characters; almost all of [them] are totally different in race and ethnicity," Williams said. "It’s not just that same old person that you always see on TV, it’s a huge variety, and I love how that speaks to children and adults in this show."
"Everything I do, and have done, has always been mostly driven by wanting to exist somewhere where someone who looks like me hasn’t existed before," explained Jamil. "It’s me just recognizing that as a kid, it was really hurtful growing up never seeing a South Asian — especially never seeing a South Asian woman — presented as a main character rather than a moment of light relief where we’re kind of stereotyped and cast aside. To now participate in these things that I grew up loving so much, I could never have imagined that. ... I think it’s so important for little kids who look like me and Paul to be able to know that this is what we’re doing and therefore they can go on and do it, too."
Darius receives added emotional development when it's revealed that he and his father wanted to visit Jurassic World together. Unfortunately, his dad got sick and passed away before they could realize their mutal dream. When SYFY WIRE asked Williams about that unexpected pathos and heartbreak, he offered up an equally emotional answer.
"I really just wanted to bring attention to a lot of things that you really can’t just have one fight and immediately be like, ‘I don’t like you anymore’ or ‘I don’t wanna be related to you.’ People do have those drastic comments when you’re having an argument or something and it’s not just you talking to a person [in those moments], you’re talking to someone that is close to you, that is in your heart," the actor said. "You have each other in your heart, and you can never let go of someone just because you had an argument; you always have to stick close to someone, especially if they’re a part of your family, and especially if they’re your friend."
When Powell was first approached for the project, he was told that the show would be "The Breakfast Club with dinosaurs." When production got underway, however, the Scream Queens vet realized it was so much more than that.
"One of my favorite types of movies are sort of what I call ‘rack focus movies,'" he explained. "I think this goes back to the question about people feeling represented onscreen — it’s a [show] that’s following the same events ... [but] focusing on how different characters with different perspectives and different experiences and a different worldview react to the same set of circumstances. ... I think it’s a much more diverse cast of characters that have more interesting perspectives than any of those characters in The Breakfast Club, and [they’re] faced with more insurmountable things that their personal help save themselves and each other."
Trevorrow, who describes himself as "a custodian" of the Jurassic franchise, said that Camp Cretaceous was born out of the necessity to come up with an "idea that would honor the legacy of Steven and of Michael Crichton and what Jurassic Park means to so many millions of people." He hilariously went on to compare his relationship with Spielberg to that of Lorne Michaels, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg in a famous SNL Digital Short.
"I feel like so much of my life over the past six years has just been like the guys from Laser Cats — just walking right into Steven’s office and being like, ‘All right, stick with me. Here’s what we’re gonna do …’ And just getting the stare," Trevorrow said. "But on this one, he was really on board from Day 1, and everything he’s seen he’s really loved, and so, I don’t know if we would do it without his approval, because then what are we doing?"
Funnily enough, Spielberg did appear as himself in Laser Cats 7. Check out his acting turn below:
One major thing Spielberg and Trevorrow were in agreement on was that Camp Cretaceous could not water down the primal terror of the live-action movies. While there is no overt blood or gore on the TV show, the pants-wetting idea of being chased by gigantic lizards as the adults lose all control still carries over.
"We really recognize that these are were real creatures that are horribly dangerous, but they’re also alive and they’re deserving of respect," Trevorrow continued. "There really wasn’t ever a question ... that we wanted to continue on with the tone of the films. It really needed to feel like it existed in that same world. I don’t think animation is a medium that is any less valuable or important in the context of the story we’re telling; this really is another part of the story we’re telling."
Trevorrow also remembered first pitching the short film "Battle at Big Rock" (set between Fallen Kingdom and Dominion) to Spielberg and described a baby as "hanging like a spit roast chicken" when dinosaurs are about. "I could see in his eyes, ‘Yeah, we kind of get each other on this issue,'" the filmmaker recalled.
"It all comes down to ‘the stakes have to be real,’" Kreamer continued. "If every single adult or kid has all these near misses and nothing happens and there’s nothing really at stake, I just think it’s harder to really buy in that the kids are in danger. So it was very important to all of us to ground it into real fear; bad things can and will happen."
Trevorrow isn't the only one who's got a history with the legendary filmmaker. Jameel, for example, used to recommend him films when she worked at a London-based video rental store in her teenage years.
"I knew that he’d come in every Saturday, and I was so excited to serve him, and I would make sure that no one else took the Saturday shift and that I’d be able to serve Steven and get him his favorite videos and give him good recommendations, which felt insane as a teenager," she said. "And for that kid to know that I’m now indirectly working with him is just too much to cope with." The actress even had to "scold him" once or twice when he didn't bring rentals back on time. "I’m fining Steven Spielberg because he didn’t bring a DVD or video back … It’s so wild," she added.
"I did a project on Steven Spielberg when I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with him. But I never recommended him videos. That’s gotta be mind-blowing," Powell said.
Since debuting last Friday, the show has positively connected with audiences, racking up a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. A definite standout is Bumpy, the baby Ankylosaurus (Trevorrow's favorite type of dinosaur, by the way) that forms a close bond with Giambrone's Ben. Indeed, she's giving The Mandalorian a run for its Beskar.
"We all loved Bumpy before it went out there, and to see the adoration and the Baby Yoda-like love that Bumpy is getting has been incredibly gratifying. If we went forward, Bumpy is one of our gang, so I would imagine we would see more of [her]," Kreamer said.
"She kind of represents hope to us. You think that the absolute worst happened, but there is always hope," Trevorrow continued.
Right now, Netflix has yet to order a second season of Camp Cretaceous, whose first season left off on one humdinger of a cliffhanger. Presumed dead, Darius and his fellow campers are left behind on Isla Nublar, and since we know the island is soon to be destroyed by lava and volcanic ash, they're gonna need to get off that rock as soon as possible. Even so, that gives the production team a chance to tie Season 2 into the events of Fallen Kingdom, which does have humans (like Owen Grady and Claire Dearing) returning to the abandoned park.
"I would imagine if we were to do more, it would definitely be set in a survival story, a get-off-the-island story, or ‘We just gotta make it’ story," Kreamer teased.
"We have built a real foundation here that if the audience chooses to let us forward, then we really can weave this quilt together in a way that I think is really new and exciting and pretty unexpected. All we need is permission from the audience to do so," Trevorrow added.
As for where their characters will go in a potential second season, the cast has some ideas.
"The thing that I’d most like to see Darius go through is probably something along the lines of just chillin’ with the dinosaurs, because that is the one thing that he’s wanted to do in this entire series and he has never even got to do it," Williams said. "I’d say he’s got to do it once, but every time, he was running for his life. So, just giving everybody a chance to have a normal camp day, other than getting chased around by carnivores camp day, that’s what I want."
"I feel like I would like to see more of Roxie’s silly side," Jamil said. "She does have this tendency to join in with the pranking, join in with the silliness, but I would like to see Dave step up, so that she can have more fun on the show. I think that I would definitely love to continue to fill more of her ridiculous side, because we know it’s in there — we keep seeing little glimpses of it, and I think that’ll be really fun to keep bringing out of her and to play."
"I just hope that maybe I can become a better father to these kids over the course of this thing, figure it out. We’ll see, Roxie’s really carrying most of the load at this point," concluded Powell.
And might these characters pop up in next summer's Jurassic World: Dominion?
"Yes, please. I would like to volunteer," Jamil said. "Honestly, I would do the catering on the animation or the main film. I am so obsessed with this franchise, that I don’t care how I get to be involved."
"I would be happy with just a little nod at the end of us just standing in the corner," joked Williams. "Or even just a background scene of a good enough easter egg in that last movie. I’d be like, ‘You know what? That is all I need! All right, there we go. We can end the movie with that.'"