With sea shanties being all the rage last year, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would come out with a film about life on the briny. That someone, or those people, turned out to be the folks at Netflix Animation, who successfully lured away Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Williams (MOANA; BIG HERO 6; MULAN) from Disney to bring audiences a moral-laden tale of a time when leviathan sea monsters ruled the waters, and of the men and women who sought to change that world order. Sit ye right back, matey, for a two-hour tour, a two-hour tour.
THE SEA BEAST literally opens with a bang as audiences are introduced to a boy who is the sole survivor of a ship that was attacked by a giant sea creature. Fast forward some years and the boy is now a strapping young man named Jacob Holland (voiced by Karl Urban, THOR: RAGNAROK; the new STAR TREK films), who serves aboard “The Inevitable” (a curious name for a boat), a wooden sailing ship helmed by the legendary Captain Crow (Jared Harris, TV’s CHERNOBYL, THE CROWN and MAD MEN). Crow took the boy in after that tragedy and raised him as his own; now he’s going to make Jacob the ship’s captain but first they’re going to catch the most elusive sea beast of them all — The Bluster. Arrgh! The King and Queen (Jim Carter, the DOWNTON ABBEY franchise; THE GOOD LIAR, and Doon Mackichan, TV’s TOAST OF TINSELTOWN and TOAST OF LONDON, respectively) have offered a handsome bounty for whoever brings them the creature dead or alive, and Crow has some formidable competition in Admiral Hornagold (Dan Stevens, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA; COLOSSAL), whose own ship, “The Imperator”, is far more advanced and well-equipped than The Inevitable. Meanwhile, back on land, young Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator, MORBIUS), who lost her own parents after a sea monster destroyed the ship they were on, dreams of going off to sea to fight the beasts. She runs away from her orphanage and stows away on The Inevitable, much to the consternation of Jacob. After an encounter with The Bluster, Maisie realises that the red beast may not be the menace that everyone thinks it is. Now she has to convince Jacob before it’s too late.
Not surprisingly, THE SEA BEAST has everything you would expect from an animated film in 2022 — plenty of diversity and inclusion, women working in positions of authority, multiple learning points, a feisty protagonist who is wise beyond her years, an overly cute animal sidekick and Pixar-quality CGI rendering. On that last one, the images are impressive, particularly during the encounters with the various sea monsters, which come in a rainbow of vibrant colours. Where THE BIG BEAST is less successful is the story, which is completely predictable five minutes into the film. Will children care though? Probably not, but their parents who have to sit through the film with them may be checking their watches a few times. The film’s running time of just under two hours seems a might too long, although Williams’ other films are just as long. A few parents with certain political views may also take exception to the story’s subversive messaging: Don’t believe everything you read, even heroes can be wrong, and is hatred inevitable? That third one is a good one, although last week’s season finale of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS dealt with that question much better.
Unfortunately, the voice talent is a bit of a mixed bag. While Harris is fabulous as the salty Captain Crow, and Carter’s sonorous voice aptly matches his character’s royal status, Urban is less successful. Though the Kiwi has a middle-American accent down pat, he’s less adept doing a Scottish-ish (or is it northern English-ish?) one and Jacob’s accent wavers in and out… again, not that a child would notice or care.
I doubt THE SEA BEAST will become a children’s animated classic but it does offer enough to keep the kids entertained for a couple hours while instilling in them some wholesome life lessons. And with Netflix’s current financial woes, it may also be one of the last animated films we’re going to see from them for a while.
THE SEA BEAST is currently streaming on Netflix.
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