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The Sea Beast movie review: Netflix’s new animated film is the critique of colonialism that RRR wishes it was


The Sea Beast movie review: Netflix's new animated film combines the swashbuckling fun of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with the heart of the How to Train Your Dragon films.

Amid the season glut of theatrical animated films dominated by sequels and prequels (and at least one sequel to a prequel) arrives The Sea Beast, a new Netflix adventure that functions not only as a welcome reminder of what the streamer is capable of, but might also serve as some much-needed respite for parents dulled by the tunes of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”

A more colourful takedown of colonialism than RRR could ever be and a metaphorical critique of everything that Gru and his kind stand for, The Sea Beast is the rare children’s film with grand ideas on its mind. It favours kaiju battles over contrived pop-culture references, but it also talks about generational pain and the cycles of violence that often cause it.

Karl Urban voices Jacob Holland, a swashbuckling hero who is outcast by his pirate crew after befriending an orphan girl named Maisie, voiced by newcomer Zaris-Angel Hator. Like so many kids her age, Maisie had grown up idolising ‘hunters’ like Jacob, whose main job is to keep communities of humans safe from sea beasts with a history of attacking them. Or so everybody has been told.

We see the ‘hunters’ in action in the film’s spectacular opening scene, which pits them against a particularly gnarly-looking monster and gives Jacob plenty of opportunity to show off. He slicks across the deck with about as much ease as Urban swinging in and out of his native New Zealand accent and the cockney cadence of Billy the Butcher from The Boys.

Like Peter Quill from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Jacob was taken in by the pirates as a lost child. And like those films, The Sea Beast also flirts with themes of found family, first after Jacob is accepted by the pirates as one of their own, and then years later, when he embraces his paternal side on his adventures with Maisie. Her parents, we are told, were ‘hunters’ just like him.

But when Maisie begins to question everything she’s been taught over the years — not only about her parents but also the ‘monsters’ that supposedly killed them — it gives the film a chance to swim away from its relatively light-hearted tone and towards what it really is, an anti-imperialism cartoon that is progressive without ever being woke. Which is remarkable, considering just how passionately it rages against the rigours of tradition.

“They were heroes,” Jacob reminds Maisie about her folks in one key scene midway through the film. And the very wise Maisie, having freshly looked a sea beast in the eye and forged a connection with it, responds gravely, “Maybe you can be a hero, and still be wrong.”

Maisie is, in many ways, the parallel protagonist of the film, which smarty avoids falling into the Dangal trap and allows the young girl to be the master of her own destiny, the captain of her own fate. She’s a lot like the titular heroine of director Chris Williams’ previous film, Moana, who shared a similar dynamic with Maui.

But while The Sea Beast might have thematic overlaps with films such as Moana and How to Train Your Dragon, the animation here isn’t of the same level as the crème de la crème of Disney and DreamWorks. The action, however, is staged with imagination, and whatever the film lacks in detail, it more than makes up for with its inventive creature designs. Particularly memorable is a mid-movie sequence in which a stranded Maisie and Jacob escape from a horde of balloon-looking baby monsters on a pink beach. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, and engaging on several levels. But between you and I, it’s probably a blessing in disguise that this film won’t be seen on the big screen; that might have exposed some of its visual shortcomings.

It’s the kind of movie you curl up with at home. The Sea Beast doesn’t have the scientific cynicism of Encanto or Frozen, and it most definitely isn’t as garish as the Despicable Me movies, but for audiences conditioned to cough up their hard-earned cash at the slightest glimpse of the Magic Kingdom (or the sounds of little yellow people saying the word ‘banana’ over and over again), it might actually be the swift kick up the backside that they so desperately need.

The Sea Beast
Director – Chris Williams
Cast – Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris
Rating – 4/5

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