A spectacular adventure film driven by memorable characters and themes, The Sea Beast marks the most impressive animated production yet from Netflix.
Helmed by Disney veteran Chris Williams — who got his start on The Lion King and co-directed Moana — it evokes past family hits like How to Train Your Dragon while being a wholly original experience.
What Is The Sea Beast About?
Set in 18th-century European coastal locales, the story follows the efforts of seafaring hunters, personified by the brooding Captain Crow (Jared Harris), over many generations, to pursue huge monsters on behalf of their nation’s ruling class.
A young girl named Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), whose parents’ ship sunk on a beast-hunting mission, knows all the tales. She desires to “live a great life, and die a great death,” as all hunters are remembered.
The story takes many turns—some expected, and several quite surprising. Here are five ways that The Sea Beast levels up the typical family-animation event film.
1) It Perfectly Blends Sweeping Action and Light Humor
Minutes into this film, you’ll be sure it’s an animated reboot of Pirates of the Caribbean as so many elements — maritime myths, stodgy admirals, and heroics at sea — are all here.
Yet, rather than a treasure hunt, The Sea Beast resembles the kaiju genre (think Godzilla and King Kong).
Experienced sailor Jacob (Karl Urban) battles massive “devils” from the deep in several fast-paced action scenes that push the bounds of what animation has achieved.
But it’s also a level of frightful peril that kids under age 7 will likely find too much. For grade-schoolers and older, thankfully, thrills come in equal measure with lighter story threads of discovery and humor.
2) This Spunky Kids’ Film Takes Time with Character Moments
Writer-director Williams, whose résumé includes Mulan and Big Hero 6, knows exactly how to draw in multi-generational audiences.
Curious and talkative Maisie drives the initial story beats, stowing away on a prized galleon, The Inevitable. Gradually, she’s paired with Jacob, as the two banter but also find common ground as orphans of the sea.
At five minutes shy of two hours, it’s longer than most animated features. But small moments are where The Sea Beast shines, giving Maisie time to slowly pull one harpoon after another out of her beloved red sea creature . . . a scene of Jacob confronting his former idol, Captain Crow . . . and many more.
3) The Sea Beast Feels Surprisingly Grounded For a Fantasy Adventure
Every detail of these majestic sailing vessels, from ropes to doors to paint, is meticulous. “I really wanted the people who love ships to feel like we got it right,” said Williams in a recent interview.
To consult on the script and production design, he employed Gordon Laco, who had a similar role on the feature film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World years ago.
“That’s cited as one of the most authentic representations of life at sea that’s ever been on film,” said Williams. “He is very knowledgeable.”
Similarly, when it came to creature designs, they “spent a lot of time looking at marine mammals — walruses, seals, killer whales,” he said. “If it feels like the anatomy is fudged or wouldn’t work, the audience senses that, especially when the rest of the world feels so plausible and realized.”
4) The Sea Beast Reflects the Audience's Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Past entries in this genre — DreamWorks’ Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Disney’s Treasure Planet come to mind — were said to be "whitewashed," reflecting centuries of European history.
But, as these are fantasy stories, it also makes sense to depict a more idealized society where people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds have a voice.
“When I first watched it, I was so emotional,” said 18-year-old actress Zaris-Angel Hator, who plays the young co-lead. “If a younger me had seen a character like Maisie, especially the way she is so strong and confident, it would’ve made me more confident and also more happier to be myself.”
Several people online have pointed out the beauty that Maisie and another character, Sarah Sharpe, bring to this ensemble drama.
5) The Sea Beast Underlines the Relevance of History to Our Lives
With aesthetic similarities, it’s easy to assume that the film's themes mirror DreamWorks’ Dragons trilogy, which is basically about taming monsters. Instead, The Sea Beast considers that the history we study might be incomplete.
“Maybe someone can be a hero, and still be wrong,” says Maisie.
Rather than wholesale discarding entire legacies, the story urges a certain humility even while reframing the narrative to reflect a fuller truth.
“The world is wide, Jacob, and you don’t know everything," says Maisie.
While the youngest viewers may need to wait for this voyage, check out The Sea Beast for a swashbuckling, grand-scale adventure with heart.
Rated PG for action, violence and some language, The Sea Beast is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.