The Sea Beast launches on Netflix on Friday, January 8th.
The Sea Beast, though a touch bloated, is an endearing, rollicking animated adventure that’s good for the whole family in the summer. Brought to you by Netflix Animation, the film covers well-traveled themes, but the gentle mix of genres here, from pirates to sea monsters, and some well-executed action sequences help create a fun fable about acceptance and forgiveness.
Directed by Chris Williams (Big Hero 6, Tales for Moana/Emperor’s New Groove), The Sea Beast delivers a gentle villain story about a world filled with giant aquatic creatures and heroic “hunters” tasked with bringing them down. A few generations have passed since the “dark ages” (when those monsters were said to have attacked coastal towns), and hunters are now so pervasive in their precarious occupation that there are now orphanages for children left orphaned because their parents went there gone war with a colossal sea serpent.
Zaris-Angel Hator’s young Maisie is one of those orphans, though she dreams of escaping to the high seas and leading a life of monster hunting like her parents. The build-up that establishes both Maisie and one of her heroes, Karl Urban’s beasthunter-sailor Jacob, gets a little lengthy – as there’s definitely a shorter, tighter (better?) movie here – but the best, most effective part of The Sea Beast balance the tougher parts. Each act is a bit guilty of repeating moments already addressed, but the end result is still a fun flick with great-looking animation.
Hator and Urban form a relatable couple who exude surrogate father/adopted daughter vibes as they argue over what to do about the monsters. First of all, they’re both on the same page when it comes to sea demons, as Jacob will inherit the role of captain of The Inevitable from his own adoptive father, Captain Crow (Jared Harris), while Maisie gives up her digs at the orphanage and further stows the ship around to join their idols in snake impaling. Then comes “Red” – the Moby Dick-type monster from the movie (who also sometimes doubles as King King), and Jacob and Maisie start a debate about who that is real Monsters could find themselves in this never-ending conflict.
The Sea Beast fights with pace, antagonists (Dan Stevens voices an arrogant royal nemesis, but all too briefly) and story payoffs/losses, but it’s also charming and the new life Jacob is thrown into after he’s so up Being set one way for so long makes for an intriguingly gorgeous character 180. And while both Maisie and Jacob learn to love Red and empathize with sea monsters in general, The Sea Beast still allows the monsters to keep their fangs. These are not necessarily peaceful, docile creatures. Like humans, they contain layers and lash out even when the moment doesn’t demand it. This adds a pleasing bit of complexity to a much simpler story.
The colors pop beautifully in the film too, with most of the monsters having their own place on the spectrum – so much so that Maisie names a few just by their hue. Add to that the large set pieces of ships, waves, whirlpools, gnashing teeth and lashing tentacles and you have a visual feast that can capture both the grandeur of the ocean and the emotions of a child.
The Sea Beasts Pictures
Jared Harris as Captain Crow seems like the kind of father figure Jacob might need to avenge, but he blossoms into something far darker and more interesting. There are some unresolved elements regarding Crow and his inner turmoil (and dealing with a witch) as the credits roll, but the story still makes better use of him than most other films with a similar character. To be fair, Crow isn’t the only thread at the end of this story, which is a shame as there seems to have been ample time to address everything.
Karl Urban, currently starring in The Boys (and known for other wonderful sci-fi grumps on Dread, Star Trek, and Almost Human), can turn to some kindness here, while Jacob goes from narrow-minded to protective and compassionate blossoms. Jacob has a steep incline as someone tasked with breaking a cycle of violence, but his time with Maisie and Red (and Blue) is being managed with enough care to make his transition venal.