Synopsis: A legendary sea monster hunter has an epiphany when a stowaway girl befriends the most dangerous monster of all.
Stars: Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, Kathy Burke, George O’Hara
Director: Chris Williams
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: These past few weeks, there’s been a bit of a neck and neck battle for the family audience in theaters, a sharp directional shift from where things were just a few scant stretches prior. It was in these early months of 2022 when studios began testing the waters of debuting movies at in-person venues rather than stick with the streaming model that had been the norm (and going easy on wallets) since the pandemic changed the way we watched movies. So right now, a family has an excellent array of options in theaters, from the respectable Toy Story prequel Lightyear to the zany comic mayhem of Minions: The Rise of Gru. (I’m still tuning out the parents who brought their children to see The Black Phone…about a child killer.)
One studio/streaming service has kept true to its model, and Netflix has remained a solid performer in the family animation category because of it. Their latest in-house produced film is The Sea Beast, and while it’s been in a few select theaters across the country for several weeks, it’s making an official debut on demand this coming Friday, July 8. While the animation branch strangely hasn’t broken into the major players league despite some terrific projects (and numerous award recognitions), the rollicking fun and beautiful animation of the ocean-set The Sea Beast should increase their cache among other ‘toon titans.
Growing up, orphan Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) dreamed of joining the crew of the infamous ship the Inevitable and its brave commander, Captain Crow (Jared Harris, Pompeii). Employed by the snobby monarchy to rid the coastal waters of various undersea monsters, Crow’s crew is the best in bringing home the trophies displayed around the glittering palace. One beastly beastie, The Red Bluster, remains just out of reach for Crow, second in command Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, The Cell), and the brawny brave heir-apparent Jacob Holland (Karl Urban, Riddick). While the Inevitable is docked near her orphanage, Maisie stows away on the ship, plunging herself and Jacob into a quest to follow The Red Bluster and chart her own course toward a voyage for the history books.
Right out of the gate, The Sea Beast reveals a buoyancy and fresh approach to an age-old story of a child with no apparent family running away with the sea circus. Maisie’s wish fulfillment of hopping on board the ship with a crew she’s studied in a well-worn book is easy to go along with, aided by Hator’s energetic voice performance. Believe me when I say that zest comes in handy when trying to distinguish between the voices of Urban and Harris while tracking their own issues in a pseudo father/son dynamic over the ship’s future. There’s a fast-paced zip to the first 45 minutes, which aptly holds the attention until the middle section when The Sea Beast begins to tread water for another 45 minutes before bringing it home in its last half hour.
Two hours is a long request for an animated endeavor, and while I’m not entirely sure it needs to be as long as it is, I’m glad The Sea Beast didn’t sink completely when it sagged. It’s more of your typical mid-movie developments when waves threaten to rock the boat of what had up until that point been a smooth ride for our confident characters. Without songs or an abundance of comic relief side characters (actually a blessing), the film has to rely on old-fashioned storytelling – and at least it doesn’t try to wiggle out of its responsibilities in that department.
Directed by Oscar-winner Chris Williams (Big Hero 6) from a screenplay co-written by Williams and Nell Benjamin (lyricist and book writer for the Broadway musical adaptations of Mean Girls and Legally Blonde), The Sea Beast is a fully formed, epic-sized whale of a tale that should more than hold the attention of the older youngsters in your household. The creative undersea creatures might be a bit intense for the too tiny, but if you’re looking for one of those “bridge” movies that can take your kids from their G-rated days to the stronger themes of a nearly two-hour PG adventure, I will wager The Sea Beast to be a worthy option.