The Sea Beast Review: A Crowd-Pleasing Anti-Imperialist Seafaring Adventure

"The Sea Beast" is a seafaring adventure with lots of exciting nautical battles, terrifying giant sea monsters, big thrills, and a great dynamic between a hardened monster hunter and an energetic and hopeful kid. Oh, and it is also a poignant animated film about anti-imperialism and how truth and history get distorted to benefit those in power, you know, what kids love.

The film takes place in a magical land where the seas are filled with huge monsters that once terrorized coastal towns — until monster hunters drove them to the high seas. The hunters are celebrated and considered heroes of the crown, which has managed to expand its borders now that they are monster-free. But while most beasts have been eradicated, there is one that has eluded every hunter that has tried to kill it: the fearsome Red Bluster.

Epic action

"The Sea Beast" centers on the famous monster hunter Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), the soon-to-be captain of the most famous ship of all, "The Inevitable." The King and Queen task the ship's crew to kill the Red Bluster, or be replaced by the royal army as the official monster-hunting force. Facing extinction, the crew sets out on one last mission to prove their worth, but things change when young Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) sneaks on board. She and Jacob discover that there is more than meets the eye in this centuries-old war between monsters and humans — that maybe an animal is just an animal, and maybe we shouldn't blindly trust the history that the government narrates.

As an all-ages animated adventure, "The Sea Beast" is a roller-coaster ride of nautical entertainment. There are several naval battles against the sea monsters, with elaborate harpoon-throwing squads hanging from one side of the ship like the bungee-jumping armies of Yimou Zhang's "The Great Wall," swashbuckling sword fights, and tons of cannon fire and smoke. The film looks gorgeous on the big screen, with a focus on realistic backgrounds and textures that makes the naval scenes feel immersive, and a sense of scale and stakes that bring to mind Peter Weir's masterpiece "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," not just during action scenes, but also in the downtime scenes where it's just the crew working on the huge ship, setting the sails and tightening an incredible amount of ropes.

A poignant seafaring tale

"The Sea Beast" does meander a bit in its second act, which threatens to become a cute kid-focused side mission with adorable creatures. But co-writers Chris Williams (who also directed the film) and Nell Benjamin manage to get back on track and introduce poignant themes of animal conservation and anti-imperialism, all while delivering a more family-friendly tale of found family. It doesn't take much for the scenes where valiant crews sailing off to hunt down huge sea creatures to look like a bunch of whalers killing animals that were never bothering anyone, to begin with, and the film even has a ship's aging captain, played by Jared Harris, obsessed with his own Moby Dick.

While the film starts off as a rather serious film about the hard life at sea like in Weir's movie — when Maisie runs away from her orphanage, she says goodbye by telling her fellow orphans "live a good life, and die a good death" — the second half shares a lot more in common with "King Kong" and its tale of how humans ruin the beauty of nature with greed. Who is the real monster is a question the movie asks time and time again, as it explores how easily people get trapped in cycles of vengeance and violence they cannot escape from out of an obsession with the past.

The result is a movie that's as fun as it has things to say, a true animated blockbuster that could play like gangbusters in multiplexes (if there is any indication from the world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where the crowd went wild towards the climax of the film), and lingers on your mind long after the credits roll.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10

"The Sea Beast" premiered as part of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.