‘The Sea Beast’ Review: Of Monsters and Men
“Live a great life and die a great death,” is the mantra of the monster hunters in Netflix’s new animated film “The Sea Beast”. It’s a lively battle cry, yes, but it’s also a morbid one, only made more cruel by the fact that the first character says it’s a child.
To begin with, the world of this film, directed by Chris Williams (“Moana”, “Big Hero 6”) and written by Williams and Nell Benjamin, seems comfortably didactic. The people of an island kingdom have been brought up to fear the giant sea monsters that haunt the sea. Ships full of hunters heroically fell the beasts and bring pieces of their carcasses home to the king and queen. It does not take a genius to see the scary side of this, or to wonder when the film will introduce its inevitable paradigm shift.
That shift is mainly initiated by a little girl named Maisie (expressed by Zaris-Angel Hator), the same character who was first a proponent of dying “a great death”. Orphaned when her two creature-hunting parents died at work, Maisie has grown up on stories about abominable beasts and the legendary sailors who kill them. She mostly adores a famous ship called The Inevitable. When the boat docks within striking distance of her suffocating group home, she sneaks away to climb aboard.
The crew of The Inevitable has been ordered by royal decree to kill a massive monster called Red Bluster. If the mission fails, the monarchy will take out the ship. This adds effort for Jacob (Karl Urban), a famous hunter who is next in line to become captain, and the aging Captain Crow (Jared Harris), who has had a grudge ever since he lost sight of the beast. Jacob, who becomes Maisie’s ignorant comrade, has his own past marked by monstrosity.
“The Sea Beast” is skillfully animated. The background and underwater images are particularly impressive, although the characters’ facial expressions rarely live up to the enthusiastic voice acting. Its amazing creatures range from uninspired (the red blower) to irresistible (an aquatic sidekick of Maisies called Blue). There are other fun visual choices, like a beach with chewing gum pink sand, and the film has an impressively diverse ensemble of background characters. Even as the story progresses, a lively score by Mark Mancina keeps things frozen.
Of course, slow storytelling is not ideal, especially in a movie aimed at children. “The Sea Beast” does not earn its nearly two-hour drive; it could easily have fixed the landing if it had only fewer leads. For example, Captain Crow takes the inevitable on a scary side quest that introduces a character who, despite a lot of sinister warning, never reappears.
But the biggest sin of this script is its steadfast predictability. Lessons are learned and enemies are fought, but nothing very surprising happens in between. The unlikely duo gather; the spunky little girl gets a cute animal as a buddy; good and evil are actually not what they seem. Last year, Pixar released “Luca”, which offers its own views on prejudice, found family and sea monsters, and it’s hard not to compare when looking at “The Sea Beast”. “Luca” is the decidedly more heartfelt, original and stylish of the two.
The sea animal
Rated PG. Playing time: 1 hour 55 minutes. Watch Netflix.