Director – Genndy Tartakovsky, Screenplay – David Krentz, Don Shank and Genndy Tartakovsky, Producer – Shareena Carlson, Music – Tyler Bates & Joanne Higginbottom, Animation – Studio LaCachette (Animation Supervisors – Alix Arrault, Camille de Knyff & Leni Marotte), Art Direction – Scott Wills. Production Company – The Cartoon Network/Williams Street.
Aaron LaPlante (Spear/Monkey #3), Tom Kenny (Monkey 1&2)
A caveman returns from fishing only to witness his family being attacked and devoured by a vicious dinosaur. Overcome with grief, the caveman then watches as the same dinosaur kills the young children of a tyrannosaur. The caveman and the tyrannosaur form a friendship. Together they pass through the prehistoric wilderness, searching for food and seeking to avoid the vicious predators out there.
Genndy Tartakovsky emerged as producer of a series of hit animated tv shows during the 2000s, including Dexter’s Laboratory (1996-2003), The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2003-5) and Samurai Jack (2001-17), He ventured onto movie screens as director of the hit Hotel Transylvania (2012) and the first two sequels Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015) and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018).
In between Hotel Transylvania outings, Genndy made the tv series Primal (2019-20) for the Cartoon Network. Primal: Tales of Savagery is a film based on the series. (It is based on the first four episodes. I am unable to determine if the film actually remakes the episodes or else is simply just a compilation package – the episode titles are retained and each runs to around 20 minutes in length, leading one to expect that the latter is the case).
The prehistoric genre was popular in the 1910s through to 1940s but died away after the 1960s. This offered up anachronistic combinations of cavemen and dinosaurs. Films since then have been far more anthropologically accurate – see the likes of Quest for Fire (1981), Clan of the Cave Bear (1986), 10,000 B.C. (2008) and Alpha (2018). (See Films Set in Prehistory for a more detailed overview). In terms of its setting, Primal: Tales of Savagery is all over the place, featuring cavemen coexisting with dinosaurs alongside one of the episodes that takes place in Ice Age conditions.
The characters, particularly the caveman hero (named Spear on the end credits), are often drawn in simple line shapes. Despite the simplicity, if not crudity of the drawing, the backgrounds come with care and attention. The film is extraordinarily expressive. It comes without any dialogue and yet the inarticulate grunts and roars that Spear gives off, or just his eye expressions, are capable to communicating a great deal. In the opening scenes alone, Tartakovsky gives us the tragedy of Spear seeing his family devoured and contemplating throwing himself from a cliff – all without uttering a word.
The relationship that develops between Spear and the unnamed dinosaur that becomes his companion is a surprisingly tender one, especially in their mutual realisation of the tragic loss of their children. Especially tender are the scenes where they kill an aging mammoth before the end of the episode where the other mammoths return to collect its tusk to take to the mammoth’s graveyard. Despite the brutal slaughter of animals we see throughout, it is a film that is eventually quite emotive in its depiction of the soul of all animals.
Tartakovsky’s action scenes are vivid and exciting. Moreover, while most animation in English-speaking territories is only considered to be for children, this is definitely something not for younger people. The film does not let down on the savagery part of its title and we see animals being killed, devoured and hacked apart, just like it would be in a real prehistoric environment. It is a surprisingly well made film. It is this that makes me decide I am going to have to revaluate Genndy Tartakovsy who I had formed a fairly lightweight opinion of on the basis of the Hotel Transylvania films.