NOW ON NETFLIX! Chris Williams may not be a household name, but he directed some beloved Disney features such as Bolt and Big Hero 6 while having story credits for classics like Mulan and Moana. The filmmaker now takes to the high seas with the Netflix animated adventure The Sea Beast. While it has shades of other features — most notably How To Train Your Dragon 2, though this is much better than that overhyped sequel — it comes together in a surprising way with an ending that perfectly pays everything off.
For centuries, monsters have attacked ships sailing along the coast of Three Bridges. So, the royal family created hunters, who voyage out into the open seas searching for and killing these creatures. The most famous hunters still operating sail on The Inevitable. Captain Crow (Jared Harris) is infamous for his tenacity, while first mate Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is fearless. Crow’s adopted son Jacob (Karl Urban) once took out four (or is it five?) beasts in a single day, a record. Upon returning from their latest massacre, the King and Queen inform the crew that their sun is setting. Admiral Hornagold (Dan Stevens) is now charged with taking care of the sea beasts, specifically the most dangerous of them all, Red Bluster.
Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) was orphaned when a monster took down the vessel her parents were hunters on. But that does not dissuade her from trying to join the crew of The Inevitable by stowing away. Of course, she’s discovered but then Red Bluster attacks. Jacob and Maisie are thrown off the boat, with the rest of the crew vowing revenge. Meanwhile, the sea beast brings the alive humans to a secret island where Jacob and Maisie discover that the creatures are not the bloodthirsty monsters they’ve been led to believe. Can they make it back to the kingdom and change everyone’s minds before it is too late?
The Sea Beast is well animated, with strong, distinct character designs and a large, sweeping canvas to play around in it. The numerous action beats are exciting, with dynamic camera movements to make them feel more kinetic. While the texture detailing doesn’t quite match up to Pixar levels, that is hardly a real issue, especially when the aesthetic does not aim for hyperrealism.
“…Jacob and Maisie discover that the creatures are not the bloodthirsty monsters…”
Moreover, the film’s heart lies in the arcs of Jacob and Maisie. She’s plucky and adventurous, the kind of character it is easy to root for. Jacob is brave and caring, though his steadfast belief in the sea beasts’ evilness rubs Maisie the wrong way. This dynamic is perfectly played out as the two grow closer and discover the monsters’ true motivations. Though, it should be noted that Williams and Nell Benjamin’s script does play with familiar tropes in terms of adventure films and the true nature of, well, nature.
However, the themes they convey of power corrupting, living in harmony with the planet, and challenging one’s beliefs no matter how hard that is are refreshing. That these messages are couched in a rollicking swashbuckler is icing on the cake. The indulgent second slice is that parents will get just as much out of The Sea Beast as their kids due to the layers at play.
The cast all wonderfully bring their roles to life. Urban is the right amount of empathetic and gruff to make Jacob’s characterization work. Hator is fun in one of her first prominent leading roles, making the precocious child endearing rather than grating. Harris makes Crow’s determination and anger palpable, while Stevens makes for the kind of villain one loves to hate.
The Sea Beast has a few cliches, and the ending wraps things up a little too quickly. But the animation and art designs are good, with the cinematography adding a lot of excitement. Add in the solid vocal performances and the essential themes, and one gets a thrilling little adventure perfect for the whole family.
"…dynamic camera movements..."