After a very storied career in animation, with credits in classic Disney joints like Mulan and The Emperor’s New Groove to newer tales like Frozen and Moana, Chris Williams delivers an injection of that type of Disney heart into the new Netflix animated film The Sea Beast. In the first film where he is director, writer, and producer, Williams clearly knows what he’s doing here. He’s got pirates, he’s got a gruff lead, he’s got a plucky young lead, he’s got the high seas, he’s got monsters big and small. It’s a story about curiosity and exploration as much as it is about empathy and preservation, with a surprising dose of anti-colonialism.
The Sea Beast follows the young and adventurous Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator). She may be an orphan, but she’s the daughter of generations of monster hunters, the most recent generation being her parents who died during a hunt. Having grown up on stories about the hunters who are framed as the heroes of the kingdom, she stows away onto the ship, perfectly named, “The Inevitable.” It’s a ship she’s read childhood stories about. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her parents and what better way to do that than under the command of the legendary Captain Crow (Jared Harris). At Crow’s side is his first mate, Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), a man that Crow looks to like a son.
It is Jacob who discovers their stowaway, and despite his desire to drop her off as quickly as possible, Crow admires her ambition and lets her stay on board. Plus, Crow has his eye set on things that are more important. He is hunting a sea beast known as the Red Bluster. This hunt is deeply personal to Crow. Not only did Red take his eye, but this is the last hunt he will have before handing the ship over to Jacob. It’s also meant to prove that hunters are still valuable to the king and queen, who want to replace these privateers with their royal navy.
But Crow’s dogged hunt of Red leads the ship to be caught in a maelstrom with the beast and in the fight, Maisie saves the ship but allows the beast to get away. Crow is enraged, but before he can dole out punishment, both Maisie and Jacob are taken by the beast. At this point, we, unsurprisingly, learn that Red is hardly the villainous monster that people are painting the beasts out to be. Maisie, open-hearted and compassionate, forms a bond not only with Red but also with a cute smaller monster she names Blue.
It’s through Maisie’s willingness to change her opinion and learn from this beast that she learns to trust it and also find out the truth. And then her actions in turn inspire Jacob to change and begin to see the beasts he’s been hunting for all his life as more than just monsters. It won’t exactly surprise you by the time you get to the end, but at the heart of The Sea Beast is a warm gooey center and it is a highly enjoyable movie all the way through.
The animation is impressive, thanks to Netflix Animation, we can see every nick and scar on Red’s body, each one a reminder of how many sailors have hunted her over the years. The cast is also a surprisingly robust one, including Urban and Harris, there’s also Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, and Doon Mackichan. While Urban certainly does the lion’s share of the work alongside Hator as the leads, Harris’ Crow is also surprisingly diverse as far as animated villains go. He jumps from a caring father to a gregarious captain to a haunted man with surprising ease and each version of him is believable.
If you’re looking for the next animated movie to watch with the family (or by yourself), then The Sea Beast is it. Especially if you’re a fan of the tried-and-true formula of an older, reluctant father figure and a spritely youth going on an adventure together. While the one downside is that the movie does run a tad bit too long and could probably have been 100 minutes or less, it’s certainly a fun time.