Godzilla and King Kong are two of the most popular Kaijus in pop culture. Moby Dick is probably the oldest. Apart from them, you have the giant monsters from “Pacific Rim,” “Colossal,” “Cloverfield,” “The Host,” “Love and Monsters,” “Underwater,” and the dinosaurs from the “Jurassic Park” franchise. And the themes that are usually associated with this genre are nuclear power, humans being the real monsters, and humanity’s amazing ability to repeat the same mistakes even when they are on the brink of extinction. There are definitely many other themes and many other monster flicks. These are just the most common and the most famous. “The Sea Beast” does take the “Luca” approach of cutifyng sea monsters, mixes a little Moby Dick into it, and, surprisingly, critiques government propaganda and war mongering!
Directed by Chris Williams and written by Williams and Nell Benjamin, “The Sea Beast” opens with a flashback of a young Jacob Holland surviving a shipwreck. In the present day, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) narrates the story of Captain Crow (Jared Harris), Holland (Karl Urban), and the adventures of their ship, The Inevitable. Then, we actually get to see Crow, Holland, Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Ms. Merino (Helen Sadler), and the rest of The Inevitable in action. But their triumphant return to Castle Whiterock is punctured by the news that the King (Jim Carter) and the Queen (Doon Mackichan) are going to decommission the Hunters and appoint their own soldiers to hunt Monsters. Holland asks for one more chance to prove their worth, and the Crown agrees. Maisie thinks this is her last opportunity to see Captain Crow up close, and she stows away on the ship, thereby forcing the crew to reluctantly take her with them.
So, as you can see, the familiar pieces are in their place. You’ve got the Monsters, who are considered to be the antagonists because of their size and their history with humans. You’ve got the Hunters who are ready to kill the Monsters at the drop of a hat. You’ve got a scorned Captain Ahab-esque seaman who sees nothing but vengeance, in the form of Captain Crow. You’ve got the charming hero, i.e., Holland. You have your POV character: Maisie. You’ve a contest going that’ll prove if the old ways of Monster Hunting should remain or perish. And finally, Maisie’s kindness cuts through all this clutter and shows us that the Monsters aren’t the antagonists. But instead of just leaving it at that, Williams and Benjamin blame this public perception on those who crafted this fictional world’s history. They explicitly state that the Crown has stoked majoritarian sentiment and created an enemy out of nothing just so that they can continue their reign.
This is quite a departure from movies that usually chalk up the misrepresentation of “monsters” to exaggerated fables. Here they go after a long line of rulers who are sitting in their marble and gold castles and mercilessly sending hundreds to die in dangerous missions. If they survive, they profit off the notion that they’re conducting these wars to keep the common folk safe. If they die, they use their dead bodies to create sympathy for themselves and stay in their cushy thrones. But the war goes on. Now, you tell me if that’s not relevant as hell or what? We’re living in a time when history books are literally being banned or being altered with some hokey stories. Governments are backing movies that are painting minority communities as the reason for society’s downfall. Jingoism and patriotism are at an all-time high. Politicians are using the deaths of soldiers (who died because of their bad governance) for votes!
In addition to that, “The Sea Beast” simply looks brilliant. The credit goes to production designer Matthias Lechner, art director Jung Woon Young, lead character designers Tony Fucile and Shiyoon Kim, costume designer Michele Clapton, VFX supervisor R. Stirling Duguid, animation director Zach Parrish, head of character animation Joshua Beveridge, head of pre-vis Damon O’Beirne, and the hundreds of animators, background designers, and rigging artists involved in the film’s making. The use of color is fantastic. It’s the little choices like making a pink beach and altering the hue of the trees and soil with the mood of the scene that show why the medium of animation is so fantastic. Director Chris Williams oscillates so smoothly between kinetic action sequences, moments of beautiful silence, and engaging dialogue scenes. Despite being one of the longer animated movies, it is paced excellently. So, kudos to editor Joyce Arrastia for that. And Mark Mancina’s score is a certified knee-slapper.
Karl Urban has played so many iconic roles over the years: Eomer, Bones, Judge Dredd, and Skurge. But after taking on the role of William Butcher in “The Boys,” every time I hear him, I only hear Butcher. So (and I say this jokingly), it is a bit jarring to see him as an out-and-out hero, initially. That said, eventually, you start to see Holland, the heart that Urban imbues him with, and his adorable relationship with Maisie. Zaris-Angel Hator as Maisie is a revelation. She manages to convey the underlying strength in her character that’s not apparent because of her softness and tiny structure. The final speech that she gives in order to re-educate the townsfolk is genuinely goosebumps-inducing. Jared Harris is a legend. And he brings all the shades of world-weariness, anger, and pathos to the character of Captain Crow and makes him feel so real. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is so good. Helen Sadler, voicing multiple characters, is so expressive. Dan Stevens is in this one too. Every voice actor in the supporting cast deserves a huge round of applause.
“The Sea Beast” is one of those rare examples where the human characters matter as much as the Kaijus. They aren’t just there to attack the Kaijus with weapons that certainly won’t work on them or run around, screaming at the top of their voice. The same goes for the monsters. They have actual character, and their actions are integral to the plot. I say “rare” because, as much as I love and celebrate the recent monster flicks, it’s probably the first film to strike this balance between the human and monster characters, while having a very strong and relevant political message, since 1954’s “Godzilla.” And, look, even if you don’t care about the politics of it all, there’s plenty of material in the film for you to appreciate, especially the animation and Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, and Jared Harris’s voice work. So, please watch “The Sea Beast” and hope that Netflix turns it into a franchise so that Jacob Holland and Maisie Brumble can go on many more adventures, educating people and planting the seeds of coexistence.
“The Sea Beast” is a 2022 Animated Adventure film directed by Chris Williams.