In a time when the new Minions movie is dominating the box office with Top Gun-like astronomical numbers, Netflix gives us an animated adventure film that is creatively rich, with characters displaying depth and complexity that genuinely threw me. From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chris Williams (Moana, Big Hero 6) comes The Sea Beast, set in a slightly fictional time when it was believed sea creatures roamed the oceans and hunters were the world’s greatest heroes as they were sent out by kings and queens to kill these beasts and keep shipping lanes open and safe. The greatest among these hunters was Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), who was discovered as a child adrift at sea after one of these monsters attacked the vessel he was in.
The captain of the Inevitable, the ship that picked up young Jacob, was Capt. Crow (Jared Harris), and he raised the boy aboard his vessel as he spent decades searching for a particularly elusive and dangerous monster known as the Red Bluster (which vaguely resembles one of the dragons in How To Train Your Dragon, but with fewer scales and no wings—perhaps, they’re cousins). After a close encounter with the Red Bluster that ends with Crow and Jacob narrowly missing its capture yet again, the King and Queen (Jim Carter and Doon Mackichan, respectively) begin to consider sending out a more modern ship, helmed by Admiral Hornagold (Dan Stevens), in search of the beast. Jacob convinces the royals to send both ships out, and whichever captures the creature gets to continue hunting moving forward.
Just before setting sail again, Jacob meets young Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator), the daughter of two recently perished monster hunters, and she asks if she can join him and Crow on their next journey. He says no, so naturally she stows away, is eventually discovered, and ends up playing a key role in finding the Red Bluster after she and Jacob are actually swallowed by the creature, sort of.
Energy, slick animation style and messages about understanding those who aren’t like you run deep in The Sea Beast. Like most strange creatures, it turns out that the only reason this one has ever attacked a ship is because the ship attacked first. And when Jacob and Maisie get free of the beast’s mouth, they become stranded on a deserted island, inhabited by a whole host of strange and curious (and sometimes dangerous) animals, and none other than Red Bluster (now nicknamed Red) comes in to save them because Maisie develops a rapport with it. Jacob is slower to come around to the idea that this magnificent, gigantic beast might actually become his ally, after a lifetime of seeing it as his enemy.
As The Sea Beast draws to a close, the movie becomes bold enough to metaphorically tackle the military-industrial complex, the fear of The Other, and the ways leaders lie to their people to stay in power, and it does so with smarts and finesse (usually), which I found both shocking and much appreciated. Even the animation style looks spectacular, with particular attention paid to how realistic the water and certain sea life look, with colors that pop and action sequences that aren’t afraid to get frantic and scary. I’ll not only count this movie one of the best animated films of 2022, but I’ll also add it to my list of streaming films I wish I’d been able to see on a big screen.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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