“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 spirited battle cry, sure, but it’s also a morbid one, only made more creepy by the fact that the first character to say it’s a kid.
At first, 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 were raised to fear the giant sea monsters that stalk the ocean. Ships full of hunters have heroically crushed the beasts and carried parts of their carcasses to the king and queen. It doesn’t take a genius to see the creepy side of this, or wonder when the movie will introduce its inevitable paradigm shift.
That shift is primarily caused by a little girl named Maisie (voiced by Zaris-Angel Hator), the same character who first advocated dying “a great death.” Orphaned when her two creature hunters parents perished on the job, Maisie has raised herself on tales of disgusting beasts and the legendary sailors they kill. She most idolizes a famous ship called the Inevitable. When the boat docks a short distance from her stifling group home, she sneaks off to climb aboard.
The crew of the Inevitable has been ordered by royal decree to kill a huge monster called the Red Bluster. If the mission fails, the monarchy will dismantle the ship. This raises the stakes for Jacob (Karl Urban), an illustrious fighter who is next in line to become a captain, and the elderly Captain Crow (Jared Harris), who has held a grudge since losing sight of the beast. Jacob, who becomes Maisie’s unwitting comrade, has his own past marred by monstrosity.
“The Sea Beast” is animated capably. The backgrounds and underwater shots are particularly stunning, although the facial expressions of the characters rarely match the enthusiastic voice actors. The fantastical creatures range from the uninspired (the Red Bluster) to the irresistible (an aquatic sidekick of Maisie’s named Blue). There are other fun visual choices, such as a beach with bubblegum pink sand, and the film has an impressively diverse ensemble of background characters. Even if the story is tedious, a lively score by Mark Mancina keeps things flowing.
Of course, slow storytelling isn’t ideal, especially in a movie aimed at children. “The Sea Beast” doesn’t deserve its nearly two-hour runtime; it could have easily stuck landing if only it had fewer diversions. For example, Captain Crow takes the Inevitable on a sinister side mission that introduces a character who, despite many dastardly omens, never reappears.
But the greatest sin of this script is its steadfast predictability. Lessons are learned and enemies are fought, but nothing surprising happens in between. The unlikely duo come together; the feisty girl gets a cute animal as a buddy; good and evil are not what they seem. Last year, Pixar released “Luca”, which gives its own take on prejudice, has found family and sea monsters, and it’s hard not to draw comparisons while watching “The Sea Beast”. “Luca” is by far the more genuine, original and stylish of the two.
the sea beast
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. Watch on Netflix.