Sometimes Netflix can be very insistent. Their mere presence caused all sorts of stalwart companies like Disney to create new streaming models for their business. Content wise, the streaming giant used years of bought content to create their own production company, which releases at least 1 film a week, forcing the other studios to release more content as well to the joy and/or overwhelming of all viewers. Inside of their content, the animation department has really upped their game, releasing the impressive Mitchells vs the Machines last year. And this year they give us The Sea Beast, another equally strong animated outing. If Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, aren’t careful, Netflix animation might insist on the audience through their quality filmmaking to be a part of the GOAT conversation. Or the animated world will be overrun with minions, I can’t really tell.
The Sea Beast takes place during something like the Middle Ages of seafaring. After a traumatizing start to his life, Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) has become a famous monster hunter. Working under Captain Crow (Jared Harris) on the most famous ship in the seas “the Inevitable,” Jacob helps make the waters safe for travel and trade for their little kingdom ruled by the King (Jim Carter) and Queen (Doon Mackichan). In the kingdom, a little orphaned girl named Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) dreams of being in the “Inevitable’s” crew after reading about them in her history books. Determined, she stows away on the latest mission: to take down the feared “Red Bluster”, the apex predator of the seas.
Despite their “2nd tier” animated status, The Sea Beast shows how Netflix’s animators are fast learners. The movie looks incredible: the seas are rendered beautifully and with an epic scope in mind, and the monsters are that perfect mixture of vacillating between scary and adorable depending on how the story wants you to see them. The minute the “Inevitable” clashes with a sea monster, you know you’re in good hands on the storytelling front; the fight is thrilling, and shows you what makes characters like Captain Crow, Jacob, and first mate Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) heroes in this world. As the world (and monsters) get bigger, so does the scope of the story. All the main characters get really interesting arcs that organically move them onto different sides of the battle, which seamlessly feed the plot forward and the audience forward in their seats, in anticipation of what will happen next.
Because the themes and message of the story grow more potent as The Sea Beast moves along. Initially, we’re given something fun but pretty simple: human vs. beast. Nothing complicated there. And that’s the point. As we spend more time around the beasts and humans, the story’s message becomes more complicated, but evermore potent. There’s amazing studies of misinformation, warmongering, fear, and even history itself that has far reaching application across many societies, present and past…all while we’re battling the Red Bluster on the high seas. And like all great stories, those messages stay pretty subtle and win you over as the story builds to its big finale.
Fans of the How to Train Your Dragon movies will see a LOT of similarities with The Sea Beast. You’re just trading the sky for the sea. In a show of good faith by Dreamworks, I would love to see an Avengers style clash between Toothless/Hiccup and Maisie/Red, who then join forces to fight some crazy big bad. That’s the good kind of corporate synergy!