Rich Johnson reviews the opening five episodes of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s most recent work, Primal, is less One Million Years BC and more One Millions Years 2D. As would be expected from his more traditional projects via the small screen – Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2003), Samurai Jack, (2001-2017) – Tartakovsky has managed to forge a simple story honed to perfection through stunning use of framework, design and dynamics akin to some of the true masters of cinema. The first five episodes, originally released in October 2019 on Adult Swim and currently airing on the E4 streaming service in the UK, have scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and, in an effort to qualify for the Academy Awards, has been edited into the feature, Primal: Tales of Savagery, with the plan to also release the final five episodes this year.
Harkening back to classic Harryhausen, Stephen Bissette’s Tyrant and the silent Jurassic imagery of Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles, this outstanding piece of work needs more recognition amongst the wealth of CGI animated features and television shows. If it takes an Oscar and a tomato to lift Tartakovsky’s criminally overlooked work to the heights it deserves, then so be it. These are times where creativity is in abundance and with E4 hopefully investing in animation, similarly to Netflix’s approach in nurturing the side-lined creative forces, the next decade will be an interesting animated landscape watch.
The best animation will always be about the quiet moments, the stillness and the weight of emotion that even a 2D form may prove. Tartakovsky’s Primal connects on a physical and emotional level that is rarely seen without feeling overly sentimental. He is steeped in tradition and dynamic, cinematic storytelling; his style one of supreme intelligence and heart, tearing it out and painting the cave walls with blood. This is a tale of family and friendship forged in the violence of nature; one moment tender, the next incredibly brutal. But amongst the horrific imagery displayed amongst the beautifully painted scenery, it remains subtle in motion and emotion. There is the hunt but equally the problems that come with the marriage of human and dinosaur from snoring to sharing the next meal.
With Tartakovsky’s design, every line and shape counts. Honing his skills through the purity of form used in Samurai Jack and heightened by the movement and framing of Akira Kurosawa. This is animation 65 million years away from Hotel Transylvania (2012) – art born from the shadow puppetry of a cave wall – not a relic but a 21st century masterpiece of animation.
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