The Sea Beast premieres Friday, Jan. 8 on Netflix.
The Sea Beast, though a touch bloated, is an endearing, rollicking animated adventure that makes for fine summertime family fare. Hailing from Netflix Animation, the film tackles well-traveled themes but the gentle genre mix here, of pirates vs. ocean monsters, as well as some nicely executed action sequences, helps craft a fun fable about acceptance and forgiveness.
Directed by Chris Williams (Big Hero 6, stories for Moana/Emperor’s New Groove), The Sea Beast delivers a soft rogue’s tale about a world filled by giant water creatures and heroic “hunters” tasked with bringing them down. A few generations have gone by since the “Dark Times” (when these monsters were said to outright attack coastal towns), and hunters are now so prevalent, with their precarious occupation, that orphanages now exist for kids left parentless because their folks went to war with a colossal sea serpent.
Zaris-Angel Hator’s young Maisie is one of these orphans, though she dreams of escaping to the high seas and living a life of monster-hunting like her mom and dad. The set up, establishing both Maisie and one of her heroes, Karl Urban’s beast-slayer sailor Jacob, gets a little lengthy — as there’s most definitely a shorter, tighter (better?) movie in here — but the best, most effective parts of The Sea Beast make up for the chewier parts. Each act is a teensy bit guilty of repeating moments that have already been addressed but the end result is still a fun flick with some great-looking animation.
Hator and Urban create a palpable pair, emitting surrogate father/adopted daughter vibes as they bicker then bond over what’s to be done about the monsters. At first, they’re both on the same page, sea demon-wise, as Jacob’s set to inherit the role of captain of The Inevitable from his own adopted father Captain Crow (Jared Harris) while Maisie’s ditched her orphanage digs and stowed away on the ship to join her idols in serpent skewering. Then along comes “Red” — the Moby Dick-type beast of the film (who also doubles for King King, at times), and Jacob and Maisie start up a debate about who the real monsters might be in this never-ending conflict.
The Sea Beast struggles with pacing, antagonists (Dan Stevens voices an arrogant royal nemesis, but all-too briefly), and story payoffs/outs, but it’s also charming, and the new life Jacob is tossed into, after being so set on one path for so long, makes for an absorbing, awesome character 180. And as 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 aren’t peaceful, docile creatures, necessarily. They, like humans, contain layers and will lash out even if the moment doesn’t call for it. This adds a pleasant bit of complexity to what could have been a much simpler story.
The colors pop delightfully in the film too, with most monsters getting to occupy their own place on the spectrum — so much so that Maisie names a few just based on their hue. Add to this the big set pieces involving ships, waves, whirlpools, gnashing teeth, and lashing tentacles and you’ve got a visual feast that’s able to capture both the grandeur of the ocean and the emotions of a child.
The Sea Beast Images
Jared Harris, as Captain Crow, seems like he’ll be the type of father figure Jacob might have to avenge, but he blossoms into something much darker and more interesting. There are some unresolved elements with regards to Crow and his inner turmoil (and dealings with a witch) as the credits roll, but the story still makes better use of him than most other movies with a similar character. To be fair, Crow isn’t the only lingering thread at the end of this tale, which is a shame since it seems like there was ample time to address everything.
Karl Urban, currently starring on The Boys (and known for other wonderful sci-fi grumpiness in Dread, Star Trek, and Almost Human), gets to engage in some kindness here, as Jacob blossoms from narrow-minded to protective and compassionate. Jacob, as someone being tasked with breaking a cycle of violence, has a steep leaning curve but his time with Maisie and Red (and Blue) is handled with enough care to make his transition buyable.