The Sea Beast: Netflix comes good with a lavish, funny, playful adventure

Film review: Streaming giant delivers an epic whose worthwhile lessons are tainted only slightly by preachiness

The Sea Beast
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Director: Chris Williams
Cert: None
Genre: Animation
Starring: Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, Kathy Burke, Doon Mackichan, Jim Carter
Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins

Good news for both lubbers and sea dogs. The recent cutbacks in Netflix’s animation department came too late to condemn this lavish, funny, playful adventure to the briny depths. Of its bones coral are not made. At a time when the American studios are struggling to deliver fresh animation, the streamer has undercut them with a period epic whose worthwhile lessons are tainted only slightly by preachiness.

We begin in the world of Herman Melville and Patrick O’Brian. The rugged, superhumanly salty Captain Crow (voiced by Jared Harris) and his agreeably diverse crew are intent on hunting down a fabled sea monster named Red Bluster. Nobody is initially more enthusiastic than his able lieutenant Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), found orphaned as a child following an apparent leviathan attack. The pompous king and queen are so keen on annihilating the peril that they commission a super-ship bedecked with more fixed cannon than the northern sky has stars. A firm binary is established. The maritime power is good. The elusive red being is evil.

Well, you probably won’t need to be told that, before we reach the halftime point, a degree of moral ambiguity has set in. A young stowaway named Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) develops sympathy for the creature as the ancient legends prove increasingly unreliable. Jacob and the kid end up as its pal and protector.

The film is a straight-up visual dazzler. At the helm alone for the first time, Chris Williams, co-director of Big Hero 6 and Moana, supervises the creation of busy cities, rich natural environments and — remember when water proved such an issue for digital animators? — convincingly damp walls of angry ocean. Leaning in towards photorealism, the character animation deals better with humans than the fantastic animals, but Red Bluster emerges as a charming blend of Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon and the less dream-like modes of Studio Ghibli.


As The Sea Beast progresses and Maisie continues to debunk myths about the creature’s supposed misdeeds, an impressively nuanced message about history emerges. “Maybe you can be a hero and still be wrong,” she suggests. Note that she is still allowing errant ancestors their heroism. You might say she is forgiving of those who have “bollixed it up”. Don’t write in. Jacob’s use of that phrase in a kids’ film reminds us it is not regarded as obscene in the United States. It once appeared in Murder She Wrote, you know.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist