The Sea Beast isn’t exactly revolutionary but it’s a lot of fun and surprisingly inspiring for the goals it sets.
Published on August 18, 2022
Rating 4 /5
It’s surprising how such familiar messages in animated films can still work wonders when given a fresh coat of paint. The Sea Beast is a perfect example of this, coming from the accomplished director Chris Williams (Big Hero 6, Moana). He brings a refreshing new take on a swashbuckling adventure yet crafts an exciting dose of action on the high seas that is as engaging as any live-action picture.
This adventure takes place during an age of sea monsters where only the most daring of captains can defeat them. The Inevitable is a ship that can accomplish these dangerous missions led by Captain Crow (Jared Harris), first mate Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and Crow’s adopted son Jacob Holland (Karl Urban). They take on daring battles with towering monsters, nearly dying with each hunt, as featured in the exciting opening sequence with the crew tangling with a tentacle-swinging creature. The strongest of the ship is clearly Jacob but even he is starting to have some doubts about his captain.
Jacob finds himself forced into caring for the stowaway orphan Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), a girl with dreams of heroism. Though daring, Maisie gets into trouble and proves to be more of a challenge for the crew to handle. As it turns out, Maisie is more of the voice of reason. She defies orders to save the crew and looks beyond the grandness of the monsters to find something more. When Jacob and Maisie end up being stranded during a monster fight, the two must learn to work together but also place trust in the monsters.
From this premise, you can probably predict where this type of story is going. It’s all about how man hunts monsters but that we may be the monsters if we don’t consider others and challenge hierarchical structures. The film makes this point very clear early on when Captain Crow meets with the King and Queen of the region, pleading for a chance to prove himself and take down a new monster to avoid being replaced by a bigger ship. People become so entrenched in all that they’ve known that they dare not question the structures they’ve been born into. Jacob, for example, has only grown up only knowing about brutal revenge on monsters. The promise of him becoming captain becomes a bigger driving force than trying to find harmony with these creatures that populate the seas.
There’s some decent chemistry present but the real draw is the animation. The sea beasts are never too detailed that you can always identify their expressions and where they are within the waters. The many human characters also have distinct features that make them compelling, albeit feeling like that familiar big-eyed Disney aesthetic. Really, though, it’s the action scenes that entranced me. There’s this certain swashbuckling earnestness present that never tries too hard for a joke or plays things safe enough for melodrama. There’s this almost retro feel to how these many fantastic moments are staged and yet there’s more of a postmodern feel for its grander message of questioning power. There’s an incredibly satisfying climax present where everyone within a kingdom has a sobering moment when they realize they’ve been serving under a legacy of lies.
The Sea Beast isn’t exactly revolutionary but it’s a lot of fun and surprisingly inspiring for the goals it sets. It’s all the more surprising that this came out of the Netflix animation division of all places. It has this immaculate look and feel of a Disney or Dreamworks film but feels more like a riskier adventure picture they would’ve pursued in the 2000s. With a great heart and a strong message, this is sure to become an animated hidden gem of 2022 and one that no family should miss.