Fantastic Fest Review: Genndy Tartakovksy’s PRIMAL Is A Stone Age Saga

The legendary animator’s new miniseries will make you feel feelings without saying a word.

Like a Golden age animator, Genndy Tartakovksy understands the power of expressions aside from words. You can see this in the intro to Dexter’s Laboratory, and of course there’s his routinely laconic Samurai Jack. But with Tartakovksy’s latest project, Primal, his effectiveness as a wordless storyteller has never been more evident.

Yesterday evening, Fantastic Fest attendees were treated to a special 4-episode preview of Primal, and what I saw there was nothing short of breathtaking. In the very first episode, a caveman goes from contemplating suicide to bludgeoning the shinbone of a T-rex, and my heart was in my throat for every step along the way. In almost every aspect, Primal manages to be a new milestone in Tartakovksy’s continued evolution as a storyteller.

The premise of Primal follows the tried and true odd couple formula, but the simplicity of it is a springboard to investigate the meaning of “primal”. After suffering a great tragedy, a formidable hunter (named “Spear” in the show’s production notes) forms an unlikely partnership with a Tyrannosaur, (called “Fang”), and the two of them venture through a fantasy Mesozoic era where humans and dinosaurs coexist.

Primal doesn’t hold back in showing the reality of its eat-or-be-eaten world. Nobody here is safe from harm, not even children, and the stakes have never been soberer. Tartakovksy’s iconic character designs now flaunt crude, jagged outlines to reflect this brutality. There isn’t a single line of dialogue to make the world seem more familiar; Primal makes Samurai Jack look verbose.

The partnership at the heart of the series is the beacon of warmth that will make you care. Though gruff and savage in his violence, Spear sports a sense of loyalty and an almost chivalric sense of duty that wouldn’t be out of place in a western. Fang is a lot more chaotic in nature, but her coalition of dog and cat mannerisms is sure to endear everyone. Fang and Spear form a bond that’s not based in trust so much as necessity. Primal doesn’t shy away from grief and trauma, the themes which draw this whole show—and its two main characters—together.

Everything about the first four episodes of Primal is stellar, from its forceful action scenes to its moving characterizations. The animation is so fluid that it still looked engrossing blown up on a theater screen. Tartakovksy and company have really outdone themselves. I'm still thinking about the opening sequence of the third episode (which was when I realized I was watching something truly great), and I'm still gobsmacked how they pulled something like that off. If the first four episodes are any indication, then the finale's going to pack a serious punch. I can't wait.

Primal premieres Monday, October 7th at midnight (EST) on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.