Movie Curiosities: The Sea Beast
The Sea Best is a CG-animated kids’ movie in a fantasy setting vaguely resembling some classic setting in history (namely the Golden Age of Piracy). Our narrative takes place within a society built entirely around the hunting and killing of giant monsters who have in turn been hunting humans for longer than anyone can remember. But as the plot unfolds, our human misfit protagonists are befriended by an especially powerful monster — arguably the most powerful of its kind — and they come to learn that the monsters are in fact merely misunderstood. Thus our main characters have to learn how to broker peace, flying in the face of accepted common knowledge and centuries of established tradition.
There’s no getting around it, folks, the comparisons to How to Train Your Dragon are going to come up. And given how that movie is the first in what’s arguably one of the greatest film trilogies in cinema history, the comparisons will definitely not be in Netflix’s favor. Even so, The Sea Beast is still a passably enjoyable — albeit flawed — film in its own right. So let’s dig deeper, shall we?
The film takes place in a seafaring culture, in which giant sea monsters have spent the past few centuries threatening coastal towns and merchant ships. Thus we have ships and crews loaded with professional monster hunters who kill sea beasts in exchange for bounties from the Crown. (The king and queen, by the way, are voiced by Jim Carter and Doon Mackichan.) Easily the most famed and revered of these hunting ships is the Inevitable, under the dread Captain Crow (Jared Harris), alongside loyal First Mate Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and the captain’s hotshot surrogate son/protege (Jacob, voiced by Karl Urban).
For the past several years, the Inevitable has been chasing after the infamous Red Bluster, apparently the largest and most dangerous of the sea beasts still alive. It’s especially personal for Captain Crow, as he lost an eye to Red Bluster some time ago. Long story short, the crew is given one last chance to capture and kill Red Bluster before the ship is decommissioned for good. But complications come up with the arrival of Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), a young girl who ran away from the orphanage to stow away on the Inevitable and chase after the monster-hunting adventure of her storybooks.
Long story short, Maisie and Jacob are separated from the others and improbably end up stuck with Red Bluster. Thus the three of them have to work together so Maisie and Jacob can get to the safety of the nearest port and Red Bluster can… actually, it’s frustratingly unclear why Red Bluster decided to save Maisie and Jacob, or what Red hopes to get from any of this. File under “the sea beasts are misunderstood beasts who aren’t really any more violent or monstrous than they have to be”, I suppose.
First and foremost, I genuinely love the aesthetic of “Moby Dick as a children’s fantasy”. The filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of the maritime angle, and it makes for some truly epic fight sequences. And speaking of “Moby Dick”, the film makes a huge meal out of Captain Crow and his mad pursuit of vengeance. The film does not pull its punches with regards to how far Crow goes and everything he throws away in his obsessively deranged revenge plot.
Of course, that’s only one angle. Crow sees the sea beasts and he reacts with anger. Jacob fights against the sea beasts, but only because he’s so afraid of them. The royalty — in addition to their favorite Admiral Hornagold (Dan Stevens) — only see the beasts as another conquest on the road to wealth and power. And then there’s Maisie — she who was brought up on fantastic tales of adventure and larger-than-life figures — who sees the monsters with a sense of curiosity and wonder.
I genuinely love how the movie examines these monsters from so many different angles, each angle given its own fleshed-out story arc with nicely developed characters. But in the end, it’s Maisie — curious, imaginative, endlessly stubborn Maisie — who has to teach the other characters to look past their preconceptions and conceive of a different world.
The plot is undeniably predictable, and quite thin in places. I wasn’t particularly fond of Blue, the comic relief pet who primarily serves to get the characters out of a corner they painted themselves into. And of course this is all derivative of a much better film. Even so, none of these are necessarily dealbreakers for a kids’ movie — really, leaning hard on established tropes is par for the course with this genre.
The third act is sadly underwhelming. For all the filmmakers’ best efforts, the climax is nowhere near exciting enough after all the far superior action sequences in the first two acts, and the big climactic “hero moment” is just an overlong speech. It certainly doesn’t help that Hornagold was clearly established as this huge central antagonist, and the plot literally walks right through that massive waste of potential like he was never there at all. Even so, the movie gets away with all of that because the filmmakers don’t talk down to their audience and the message is passionately delivered.
The voice acting is subpar across the board. Jared Harris is probably the best of the bunch here, but I’m sorry to say that none of the performances were especially dynamic or memorable. Even so, the animation more than makes up for that, with stellar character designs and beautifully expressive movements.
The Sea Beast falls under the heading of “If you’re not going to do anything new, at least do it right.” The film is undeniably derivative, and that keeps it on the maddening and ever-expanding list of Netflix films that are merely okay when they could have been so much greater. Still, the animation is sterling, the action scenes are great fun, and the film is loaded with great messages about generational trauma and the nature of war, all passionately delivered without ever talking down to the audience.
Once again, as with so many other films that have gone direct-to-streaming, this is one that I would’ve had a difficult time recommending if it was on the big screen, but knowing that it’s quick and free to watch at home makes this an easy recommendation.
For more Movie Curiosities, check out my blog. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. Also, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to support my latest live stage show, I’d be more than grateful.
2 thoughts on “Movie Curiosities: The Sea Beast”
The same could be said for The Princess on Hulu, and a number of other direct-to-streaming releases in the past year or so.
In any case, it seems like this is a film that isn’t bad, necessarily, but it could have been a lot better.
It’s that damned third act. If they had given us a climax to write home about, this would’ve been a hit.