Netflix's The Sea Beast Review - A familiar, yet engaging adventure story

  • First Released Jul 8, 2022
  • movie

Netflix's latest animated film is the big, exciting seafaring adventure you're looking for.

It's easy to write off an overly familiar film as just another derivative piece of art. Though that initial assessment wouldn't be entirely wrong, definition-wise, doing so would negate that film's ability to inform, delight, and otherwise entertain an audience. That's certainly the case with Netflix's The Sea Beast, a wonderfully animated movie that sports a grand cast and solid storytelling.

Directed by Chris Williams (Moana), The Sea Beast follows the story of Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) and Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator). As a famous Hunter--pirate equivalents that are duty-bound to hunt giant sea creatures--Jacob is selfless to a fault. Only ever pushing against Captain Crow's (Jared Harris) orders when a crew member is in danger. And even then, it's the most gentle of nudges; he owes everything to the man that raised him after all. That eventually changes after Jacob has a chance meeting with Maisie Brumble, an inquisitive little girl who's always dreamed of becoming a Hunter and stows away on his ship.

The early story beats present the makings of a wild monster hunting adventure, a concept that mostly delivers thanks to well-crafted action scenes set upon the open water. Seeing the hunters battle large creatures while trying to keep their ships intact is a treat. That said, the risks and rewards of such a life are just the tip of the iceberg. Dive deeper and you'll see that The Sea Beast is a film about how familial bonds and the historical relevance of past deeds can shape one's future. That notion can often twist into something else, however.

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What was once a means of holding onto the people closest to us might become the thing that pushes them away. Or worse, be the cause of their untimely demise. This can be seen in the relationship between Captain Crow and Jacob. Crow's desire to pass down his heritage is overshadowed by his need for revenge. Constantly chasing his "white whale" he doesn't notice the harm he's causing Jacob or the precarious situations he keeps putting his crew in.

This take on potentially harmful family ties isn't entirely new. What makes it resonate is in how this message is delivered. The film doesn't overly rely on humor to captivate, presenting each dilemma with a mature footing. There isn't much in terms of metaphorical expression; anything of importance is either outright shown or delivered via a passionate display from the cast. This storytelling tactic is a wise choice, given that a large portion of the film's audience will likely be children. Still, some of the violence on display may be a bit much for the youngest among us. However, the emphasis on not pulling punches helps in framing the more turbulent portions of the journey. Ultimately, portions of The Sea Beast may be a bit too graphic for some younger viewers, but with the themes at play, the film succeeds at telling a story in a way that's accessible to most audiences, which will ideally consist of families watching together.

None of that would work without a solid cast. Karl Urban's Jacob entertains as the reluctant hero. He's a likable character for sure and his comedic timing (when there is humor) is spot on. Jared Harris is great as Captain Crow. His shifts in perspective, while not always aligned with the right thing to do, are engaging if not outright understandable. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is underutilized as Crow's number 2, Sarah Sharpe, though not because she's not given enough screen time. It has more so to do with how her actions, subtle or otherwise, convince the audience that there is more to her story that's worth knowing. The same can be said about Zaris-Angel Hator's Maisie Brumble. She also has an interesting backstory. But because of the stuff happening in the present, we're given just enough narrative-wise to overlook her missing lore. And thanks to a strong performance and well-written dialogue, Maisie steals any scene she's in.

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The movie also sports some excellent computer animation. There are some formulaic elements when it comes to character and creature design--all of the monsters invoke a "How to Train Your Dragon" vibe. That said, the colorful aesthetics and strong attention to detail undercut most criticism. This is especially true of the water which at times looks almost photorealistic.

The Sea Beast is a great animated film, but it isn't without its faults. The main one being that the film is somewhat cliché, with elements pulled from older properties; anyone versed in Pixar or Dreamworks will undoubtedly see those influences here. That fact alone doesn't negate what the film does well though. And it still tells a captivating adventure story using fully realized characters--made apparent thanks to strong voice work and an excellent script--and wonderful animation. Overall, The Sea Beast is a welcome addition to Netflix's animated catalog.

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The Good

  • Presents a well told story
  • Strong performances from the cast
  • Solid, sometimes excellent, animation

The Bad

  • The film's influences are readily apparent
  • Certain characters are underserved by the story
  • Certain scenes may be too violent for younger audiences

About the Author

Kenneth Seward Jr. is a freelance writer, editor, and illustrator who covers games, movies, and more.