THE SEA BEAST: 4 STARS. “the combination of smarts and seafaring fun is a winner.”
Taking a lead from “How to Train Your Dragon,“ and other movies were fearsome creatures reveal their kinder, gentler selves, “The Sea Beast,” a new animated movie now streaming on Netflix, gives the old “never judge a book by its cover” platitude a nautical twist.
Monster hunter Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) come by his job honestly. As a child his parents were killed in a sea monster attack, one that left him adrift, alone in the ocean. After his rescue by the fearsome Captain Crow (Jared Harris), he devoted his life to the eradication of the sea beasts. “I swore I would do everything I could to keep people safe,” he says.
The worst of the worst, the King Kong of sea beasts is the Red Bluster, a giant lobster-red creature, rumored to be a menace to seafaring society. When Holland and his crew set off in their ship, the Inevitable, to hunt down and kill the menace, they discover a stowaway. Young orphan named Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) lost her parents on a sea beast expedition, and she wants in on the action.
There is a lot at stake on this mission. The king and queen have threatened the monster hunters with dire punishment unless the beast is tamed. Maisie, Holland and the crew set off to vanquish the creature, but soon learn that there is more to the story than they could ever have imagined.
“The Sea Beast” has spectacular action sequences with well-crafted computer animation, a compelling story about finding family, and the usual kid movie messages about loyalty and the importance of role models, but what sets it apart is a more subversive idea.
At its heart this is a cautionary tale, a warning to never take things at face value, or blindly put your trust into accepted versions of history. History can be subjective, the movie suggests, depending the source. Are the sea beasts dangerous troublemakers, as king and queen claim? Or are they misunderstood creatures used by the rulers to instill fear and exert control over their subjects? Co-writers Chris Williams (who also directs) and Nell Benjamin have woven big ideas throughout the fabric of the story, encouraging kids to figure out things for themselves and not accept the conventional wisdom.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some anti-imperialist, rebellious screed. It’s an action adventure with a conscience and some very cool “monsters” that kids will fall for at first sight. It slows down in the second half, but the combination of smarts and seafaring fun is a winner.