Genndy Tartakovsky gets more ambitious in Season 2 of his Emmy-winning, prehistoric animation series, “Primal,” proving why he’s such a revered animation auteur. (The first two episodes stream July 21 on Adult Swim and July 22 on HBO Max). The buddy story between Neanderthal Spear (Aaron LaPlante) and his T-Rex companion, Fang, gets more complex, while the world building grows more epic in scope, as they encounter civilized European cultures during the Bronze Age.
Picking up where Tartakovsky left off in the Season 1 cliffhanger, Spear and Fang set out to look for Mira (Laëtitia Eïdo), the enslaved Homo sapien who was abducted. In the first two episodes (“Sea of Despair” and “Shadow of Fate”), they survive an attack at sea and make their way to an island, where they go on separate journeys that test their loyalty.
“That whole [first] episode thematically is about going into a new world, so in the middle there’s more of this metaphysical, existential type of going through the night [on the raft at sea],” Tartakovsky told IndieWire. “And then they end up in a storm and being attacked by a shark. That was my first storyboard after doing the first season, and we knew what to focus on with more confidence because the relationship [between Spear and Fang] was working.”
Indeed, while Tartakovsky was pretty sure that the brilliant visual stylization and gore of “Primal” would prove popular, the biggest surprise of Season 1 was how strongly viewers connected with Spear and Fang since their friendship was rooted in pulp fantasy. The fact that they grow closer during their crucible at sea — fighting both a sea turtle and shark — sets them up for a series of adventures.
“The turtle was fun to do,” Tartakovsky said. “The bigger thing was the storm and shark hitting at the same time in an escalating danger. Each one is difficult on its own in animation, but when you throw all these things together it becomes complex to pull off. I never would’ve attempted this in the old days.”
This points to the artistic growth of the 2D animation team at the French-based Studio La Cachette, who were tasked with a lot more animated complexity: Spear and Fang aren’t merely fighting dinosaurs — they’re combating armies in wars, and the scale of action is more cinematic. “There are a number of episodes where there are eight to 10-minute fight sequences,” Tartakovsky said. “And each one of those almost broke the studio.”
In the second episode, while Spear encounters and combats an intelligent human civilization, Fang bonds with another dinosaur until reuniting with Spear. “It’s like a romance montage,” the director said. “The best part is they go off to the hunt in the mist and we lead them right into the village where Spear is, and from that point on it goes crazy. As a theme for the season, it’s Spear thinking about his identity and where his place is as a Neanderthal introduced to more advanced cultures.”
After this 10-episode iteration of “Primal,” Tartakovsky revealed for the first time his intention of turning “Primal” into an anthology franchise, embracing other genres in the same minimalist animation style. “The big idea is that ‘Primal’ becomes a brand,” he said. “Visceral, emotional, raw, minimal dialogue, artistic. And, with this brand, it can be about aliens, World War II. We’ll see if anybody is excited about it.”
Meanwhile, Tartakovsky, who recently signed an exclusive, overall deal with Cartoon Network Studios and Warner Bros. Animation, has a new 2D steampunk series, “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal,” for Cartoon Network/HBO Max, and an R-rated, 2D comedy feature, “Fixed,” at Sony Pictures Animation, co-produced by New Line. The 10-episode series has not yet been scheduled, but the feature is slated for next year.
“Unicorn: Warriors Eternal,” also animated by Studio La Cachette, took nearly 20 years to make. It concerns a team of ancient heroes reawakened in the bodies of teenagers in Victorian England. “Fixed,” about a dog that finds out it’s going to be neutered in 24 hours and decides to have a wild time with his buddies, is being animated at Renegade Animation (“Tom and Jerry: Cowboy Up!”) in Glendale.
“‘Unicorn: Warriors’ is completely different from ‘Primal,'” he said. “So it’s this thing we’ve been trying to do since ‘Dexter’s [Laboratory’] with action and humor but pushed to another level with big, Miyazaki-like world building. It’s got lots of dialogue, but still has my wacky sensibility, very visual, cartoony and emotional. “The epitome of what I mean is ‘Snow White,’ with the seven dwarfs crying over her seemingly dead body and you are moved by that emotion.”
The genesis of “Fixed” actually goes back 12 years and was the project that got Tartakovsky into Sony. However, they weren’t swayed by the pitch, and so he recently approached New Line, who did want to make it, so that got Sony to greenlight the project. The biggest hurdle was getting it to be hand-drawn. Renegade is known for 2D, and the director put together a wish list of veteran freelance 2D artists that he wanted to work with.
“The animation gods blessed me with the premise,” he said. “In its own self, it’s a unicorn, this project. It’s got raunchy comedy, we’re doing all the layouts here so it’s very hand-crafted. It’s got heart, it’s got real character humor and not filled with one liners. And the dogs act like canines and not humans.”
Tartakovsky described the animation style as Tex Avery, though not as exaggerated in its expressions. “So it’s like we’re following the ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ rules, but it’s got swearing and these R-rated things,” he added. “At the end of the day, once the initial shock is over after the first sequence, because we start pretty crazy, you’ll hopefully settle into the character story and you’ll fall in love with these dogs.”