“A vibrant, playful adventure, and at its core, fully capable of maintaining its lively spirit while giving proper due to its messaging.”
by Ken Bakely
Simply put, Chris Williams’s The Sea Beast is a joy to watch; a thoughtfully imagined and beautifully realized adventure, soaring and inquisitive in equal measure. With a setting rich in visual invention and detail, this is solid, engaging stuff – even though the familiar story can admittedly feel a little thin at times, there’s more than enough working in the movie’s favor to keep things strong and mostly fresh. Williams, who co-wrote the script with Neil Benjamin, creates a world in which a seafaring society has long warred against large monsters which populate the seas. It’s seeped into the culture that the fight against these vicious beasts must continue in perpetuity, and that’s the mindset held by Jason (voice of Karl Urban), an up-and-coming sailor on the verge of becoming a great warrior himself, under the tutelage of his mentor, Captain Crow (voice of Jared Harris). On assignment to kill a pernicious – we are told – scarlet beast dubbed the Red Bluster as part of his training, Jason and his crew encounter Maisie (voice of Zaris-Angel Hator), a young girl whose sailor parents died at sea. The mission quickly goes awry, and Jason and Maisie are soon ejected from the expedition, fending for themselves. In isolation, however, Maisie begins to wonder exactly what these supposed ruthless predators in the ocean have exactly done to become enemies hunted and destroyed by humans – the Red Bluster, for one, seems pretty benevolent. And as her older, newfound friend starts to wonder the same, they realize that perhaps the story they’ve been told – and that her own parents died for – might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
The Sea Beast takes a bouncy – but never overly slick – route in telling this story and bringing it to life. Williams, a Disney veteran directing his first film outside the studio, presides over a truly splendid-looking movie: off the coasts of pink-sand beaches, water splashes in near-hyperreal waves and sprays, as characters navigate this world alongside creatures rendered across a kaleidoscopic band of colors. And though the overarching concepts of the story – in setting and characterization – might not be quite as vividly outstanding as the sheer level of detail put casually on display, the movie still comes roaring to life across an array of big setpieces that are fun, breathtaking, and just the right amount of menacing for its intended viewers. Whether great battles or otherwise, there’s a sharpness to the action that keeps it crisp without becoming generic. Better still that there’s a capable voice cast on hand that compliments this well, giving some identity and motivation to the people onscreen, making sure that they don’t get lost in all of the chaotic goings-on happening around them.
So while the script sometimes struggles to keep a comparatively spry plot with a consistent pace (this movie is a hair under two hours and probably didn’t need to be), Williams and Benjamin deserve credit for how they present the questions that their story poses. The Sea Beast is a vibrant, playful adventure, and at its core, fully capable of maintaining its lively spirit while giving proper due to its messaging. The movie allows its young target audience to work through the ambivalent, complex ideas that are presented here – about critically assessing the presumptions one is raised with and not being afraid to challenge them – without bringing things to a halt to drive the point home. It’s yet another sign that, even though the movie isn’t here to blow the roof off the medium it works in or the family adventure trappings it makes use of, this is a warm and endearing movie with a lot to offer.