The following contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.
The Jurassic World franchise is known for its PG-13 level of violence and thrill-factor, but Camp Cretaceous seems aimed for a younger audience, as evidenced by the PG rating and the current McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys. But is it right for your kids? From one parent to another, here are the things I noticed that might be triggers for your kids, as well as my experience watching the season with both of mine.
What Will Appeal to Kids
Let’s start with the good. This show is full of dinosaurs, and the animators clearly enjoyed luxuriating on the sheer awesomeness that these prehistoric titans embody. The campers get to ride among them in gyrospheres—the see-through, ball-like vehicles that are possibly the coolest conceit of the franchise—and zipline past the necks of the tallest sauropods. While in an underground kayaking river, they see bioluminescent parasaurolophuses. Several of the campers are present when a baby ankylosaurus hatches from an egg (which is a little heart melting, even for the most cynical viewer).
The cast of campers is largely likeable, and while viewers might not identify with all of them, there’s likely to be at least one member of the cast who they empathize with. Dino Nerd Darius, the first camper viewers meet, is an excellent viewpoint character for watchers who are entering this world, especially those who are as excited about dinosaurs as he is. In a familiar trope, the campers overcome their differences to work together as a team—and become friends. The trope is familiar because it works; we’re rooting for these scrappy underdogs to make it off the island and get back home.
But it’s important to know that season one does not end with a conclusion to the story. Spoiler: The kids do not make it off the island. They’ve been abandoned by the adults and left to fend for themselves, because despite their best efforts, they miss the last ferry.
Despite this uncertain fate, the season finale does feel like it wraps up the larger arc of the season. It closes with assurances that the campers believe they’re going to make it, that adults are determined to come back for them, and that a missing camper survived (more on that below). The season certainly feels finished, even if the story is left completely open-ended.
But while the season finale isn’t a true cliffhanger, a large chunk of the episodes are. This is not a one-a-night before-bed TV show. This is a show that’s designed for binge watching. Episodes 2 and 4 end at relatively safe places, where the action isn’t imminent, but those are about the only two that offer a decent pause. If you’re planning to watch this as a family, leave more time than you think you need. (Parents like me will be just as eager as their kids to see what happens next!)
The Jump Scare
In the tradition of Jurassic Park movies starting with the very first one, Camp Cretaceous relies heavily on the adrenaline pumping of the jump scare. The opening scene of the first episode places viewers in a first-person video game perspective as Darius plays the official Jurassic World game—something not revealed to the viewer until a T-Rex’s jaws come closing down to black out the screen, just before a “Game Over” symbol.
There are plenty of moments throughout the series where the main characters think they’re safe, and danger appears out of nowhere, threatening everything. Sometimes the viewers share the sudden revelation of danger—that surprising shock of teeth and claws right at the forefront of the screen. Some kids thrive on this type of action; mine (five and ten) ended up attached to one arm on each side as we binge watched the last four episodes. Compared to superhero action, where the impact always affects someone else, Camp Cretaceous’s intensity comes from putting the viewer right at the center of the action.
It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the franchise that people get eaten by dinosaurs in Camp Cretaceous. The animation is handled very delicately. Viewers never see any of the details of the fates of these usually unnamed park employees. The one named adult who is eaten, Eddie, has just stolen a vehicle from the campers, which is likely to make viewers feel substantially less sorry for him. His scene is fairly dramatic: viewers watch him try to escape from the Indominus rex, who ultimately prevails in getting a human meal, and his screams, though quiet and faraway, are certainly audible.
But it’s not just seeing people get eaten, or knowing that the kids are finding what’s left of those who were attacked, that makes death loom large over the series. Much of Darius’s motivation comes from losing his father to an illness. The pair had promised to visit Jurassic World together, until Darius’s father’s sickness got the better of him. In one of the most touching episodes in the season, viewers see Darius’s father in his hospital bed, fighting for his life—but losing. Viewers don’t see his death, but Darius’s loss feels palpable. We needed a box of tissues to deal with those scenes, but for kids who fear losing parents to illness—particularly in the midst of a worldwide pandemic—it’s important parents are ready for those scenes going in.
There’s also the tease of the death of one of the campers. In the last episode, camper Ben plummets from a monorail into the jungle below, his fate unknown to the other campers. By this point in the series, the campers have survived a number of long falls before this—zip lines are supposed to be one of the fun features of the camp, but when the campers are using one to escape the Indominus rex, the fun gives way to fear. In one episode, Camper Yaz jury rigs a zip line to evade a leaping Mosasaurus in a horror version of a Sea World aquarium. So it’s not a certain thing that Ben died in the fall—and the fact that the campers choose to continue their escape without looking for him is one of the big, ethical moments in the series, where the kids choose the chance that the five of them will survive over the likelihood that, if they search for Ben, all six of them could die.
Ultimately, Ben survives; his fingers twitching as his companion dinosaur discovers him are the last things viewers see in season one. But that moral question has no easy answer, and sometimes it’s those bigger questions that challenge younger viewers, even more than the scary parts.
There’s no explicit romance in season one, which is more focused on friendship than other teen drama. Kenji, the oldest and richest of the campers, makes several comments about impressing girls, and once claims to describe himself as a “tall hot drink,” a comment met with groans and one, “Gross.” (Brooklynn, a social media star who has a deep love for her espresso machine, tells Kenji, “You could never be coffee.”)
One close friendship does develop between two girls, and while fans of other Dreamworks shows like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power may start shipping them, budding romance at this point is only wishful thinking.
My Family’s Takeaway
All kids are different. My ten year old found the intensity and the jump scares much more upsetting than my five year old, who was all about the cool dinosaurs. Both relied on me to assure them that things were going to be all right at the end, which was a bit of a leap of faith on my part, since I was also watching the series for the first time. Thankfully, Dreamworks did not let me down: all the kids made it out alive, and if all of us dropped our jaws that the kids actually failed to get off the island, it just whet our appetites for a second season.
Some kids, especially those who have watched other parts of this franchise, will handle the show’s intensity like champs. There’s almost no gore (the kids get dirty, but I can’t recall seeing any blood in the entire first season), which makes it slightly tamer than the cinematic parts of the franchise. The trailer is a good indication of the tone of the show, giving examples of how the music heightens the tension, and how danger lurks around every corner. If you’re still not sure, the first episode makes good use of all of those elements, and while the stakes are absolutely higher as the season goes on, if you think your kids can handle the first episode, they’ll probably be fine for the whole season.
That said, I’m really glad my kids didn’t watch the show on their own. We’ve had no nightmares, but I think that’s in part because they watched it with a parent, who could help them feel safe in spite of the intensity. As it turned out, watching it with them really enhanced my experience as well. My vote? Make this a family night watch and share in the awe and wonder of dinosaurs together.