Genndy Tartakovsky has become one of the most influential animators since the early 2000’s. In a world where creative voices have become over saturated, Tartakovsky has manged to stay consistently different from those in the industry. With distinctive projects such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars and, of course, Samurai Jack, it’s no surprise that one of the great animated sleepers of 2019, and possibly the decade, was done by Tartakovsky in the animated series, Primal.
Released on Adult Swim on October 7th, 2019, Primal is a five-episode miniseries that takes place in an alternate prehistoric-era in which the lines between evolution and prehistory are blurred. The story follows a caveman and a Tyrannosaurus, Spear and Gang as they would be credited, as they journey through their own bizarre lands after coming together through a tragedy that left them both alone in the world. Genndy Tartakovsky mentioned that this was a project he had long since wanted to make, yet never had the time or resources. After the completion of the Samurai Jack series, it was time for a new challenge, one that required not one spoken line in the entire run. Though his previous work on Samurai Jack, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the Powerpuff Girls had utilized minimal-to-no use of dialogue and telling a story through action, restrictions on children networking played a hand in preventing that. With an adult audience as the target, and a brilliant score from Tyler Bates (John Wick, 300), Tartakovsky is able to fully exploit action over words and Primal is a brilliant exploration into this technique.
From the opening few moments which sees Spear’s wife and two kids killed by a group of hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex’s, we are thrown into Tartakovsky’s creation that is both beautiful and vicious. There is no better use of the title Primal, in my opinion. A tragedy similarly befalls Fang, as we see her two offspring murdered by the same group of carnivores, and the two remaining victims team together to combat the hunting pack. The pilot episode is quite grueling to watch as the use of soundtrack and Genndy’s impeccable animated timing put you into the lives of the protagonists much quicker than many stories are able to. The amount of time that is taken into building an atmosphere that is simple by design, yet complex in it’s own reality can be felt in the first few seconds and gives you the sense that you can breathe and feel tense with these characters.
The second, third, and fourth episodes develop the relationship between Spear and Fang to the point of an inter-species friendship that’s mostly demonstrated through the usage of musical cues. The second episode utilizes music to create a distinction between the characters instinct over their ability to work together. The third shows the reliability each has for their survival during cold wave, though it shown through another character’s perspective. And the fourth episode shows that they now not only rely on one another for survival and dominance, but rather need each other to move on to their next goal.
The overall best episode, in my opinion, is the third. The episode opens with a family of Woolly Mammoths making their way through a deep tundra, with the oldest, and most sickly member falling behind. After being viciously ambushed and killed by Spear and Fang, the episode spends time focusing on Spear’s respect for creation as he demonstrates this respect to Fang with the Mammoth’s tusk. This leads to flashbacks that show Spear’s relationship with one of his children, and how the hatred for the tragedy to his family still affects his relationship with Fang. The episode concludes with the Woolly Mammoth family returning to collect the tusk from Spear, and ends with the family mourning over the tusk in an elephant graveyard. This episode not only shows the brilliant progression of Spear, and at times, Fang’s character, but develops feelings for those who appeared as a threat initially. It is an episode that affects you emotionally and moved me to a few tears by the end.
The fifth and final episode of the miniseries is arguably the most beautifully animated and fulfilled. It finalizes in the complete character development and world building that Tartakovsky had laid out from the first beat in the first episode. After finding a peaceful oasis and taking time to relax, Spear and Fang are captured and offered as sacrifices by a group of pre-religious Neanderthal’s that culminates in a completely wild finale that will have you holding your breath until the credits roll. I will avoid spoilers on the final episode, but I will say the ending may leave viewers with questions that should not, but may take away from the overall experience.
Primal is an exemplary demonstration on the use of action-over-sound. Each episode is a masterclass in character beats and progression, and for an animated series that features a caveman and T-Rex teaming up, it has a remarkable beauty that can only be found and seen in the most influential pieces of art. Primal is a miniseries that should be demonstrated to introductory film, animation, or storytelling classes as it brilliantly and seamlessly allows you to be introduced to a creative vision whilst also being able to analyze every decision, movement, and frame. Primal is Genndy Tartakovsky’s masterpiece.
What do you think? Does Primal sound like something you’ll check out? Let us know in the comments. Grab your copy of Primal.