While Netflix might not be the cinematic treasure trove it was during lockdown, there are still some rewards to be found lurking in its lockers. The Sea Beast is a great case in point, a delightfully inventive family film, a collaboration between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks and Netflix Animation. This is an assured production that comes close to challenging the best of Pixar and Dreamworks. While other Netflix animated projects have been summarily axed after recent losses of revenue, this one has thankfully made it to the finish line – and it’s fabulous.
The story is set in an imaginary world where humanity has been at war for centuries with a whole variety of semi-mythical sea creatures. Leading the fight is ‘The Inevitable’, a red-masted schooner commanded by the legendary Captain Crow (voiced by Jared Harris). Crow, though still formidable, is growing older and looking for somebody to succeed him. The obvious choice is Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), found drifting on a piece of wreckage as a child and now grown up to be a consummate hunter of the ocean’s denizens. He is, in many ways, the son that Crow never had.
But when a plucky little girl called Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) stows aboard The Inevitable, Jacob’s conversations with her soon have him questioning aspects of his life that he’s always taken for granted. Why must this endless slaughter perpetuate? Are the sea creatures really the monsters that popular literature has painted them as? And is Captain Crow – fixated on his endless search to vanquish the ‘Red Bluster’ that blinded him in one eye many years ago – just as duped as everybody else?
Those who detect a reference to Melville’s Captain Ahab are not mistaken, but this is more than just a seafaring yarn with literary ambitions. It’s also a clever allegory about humankind’s endless quest to vanquish everything and anything it doesn’t properly understand.
There are some superb characterisations here – Maisie is a particularly delightful creation and there are some adorable little blue creatures that have, perhaps inevitably, already made the transition into plush toys. The world building here is extraordinarily accomplished, with every aspect of this imagined civilisation thought through and delivered with absolute authority. Frantic action sequences are balanced by gentler, heart warming scenes and the pace is never allowed to flag.
But best of all is the animation itself, especially the depictions of the ocean in its ever-changing forms, from tranquil turquoise to turbulent indigo. Not for the first time, I find myself wanting to watch this on a giant screen, which really is where it deserves to be viewed. Helmed by former Disney big-hitter, Chris Williams, this is well worth your consideration and, happily, the adults are likely to be every bit as entranced as their offspring.