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The Sea Beast [2022] Netflix Review: A Swashbuckling Animated Adventure that Questions White Supremacy

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The Sea Beast (2022) Netflix Review: Chris Williams has had an effectively successful journey so far at the movies. The director, who stepped in as one of the co-writers for the nineties princess classic Mulan, has been committed to Disney and its specifically safe style of storytelling ever since. This is also the reason that despite having a long and expansive career as a writer, director, and voice actor in the studio, he hasn’t had a truly swashbuckling phase yet. And for this, only one reason stands significant, that is, the studio itself.

This is exactly the reason why him stepping out of his Disney-marked boundaries for the streaming giant Netflix feels like an impressive step forward. Far from the stifling safe trappings of studio execution, he has made a quietly significant individual film with The Sea Beast. He works here with the kind of material that truly equips him with breathing space for his love for fantasies in particular and the movies in general. Additionally, he is able to strike a balance between escapist adventure and a distinctive semblance to reality. And that is something which his comparatively manicured roots would have entirely compromised.

The Sea Beast is set in a distant past involving huge sea monsters who terrifyingly roamed through the seas. To counter them and take them down, there were groups of monster hunters, with their piracy-style ships and similar clothing. Among them, the Inevitable was the most glorious and Jacob Holland was a fantastic young hero, celebrated for his incredible killings.

The Sea Beast 2022

However, the tables are truly turned with the arrival of a little girl named Maisie Brumble, an orphan who has escaped. Since her parents were martyrs who died while fighting the sea creatures, she too wants to be a hunter. While Jacob is reluctant, Captain Crow is able to identify the heroic fire in her eyes and decides to keep her overboard. And thus, the dashing young hero finds an unexpected little ally, kicking the plot into action.

I won’t go all-out and claim that this is a wildly original premise. But Williams already lays down the reasons for it being familiar. The love for thrilling fantasies and spectacular adventures is what encouraged him to make films, and this gets evident with each scene of his most accomplished work yet. He never cuts down on the stakes, but he never overwrites his wisdom either. The dark recesses are not profoundly dealt with, but they needn’t be. This is an out-and-out children’s film, and it works well within that mechanism. The screenplay, co-written by Williams with Nell Benjamin, never hammers the central ‘message’.

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The world-building is interesting. It doesn’t immerse one from the word go, but I admired how it took its own time to familiarise us with the way of life these hunters have and their anxieties and joys altogether. It provides a solid ‘arc’ for Jacob. It also establishes the warmth and intimacy between him and Captain Crow, the authoritative patriarch of the hunters. Which is no match still to the wonderful friendship that Jacob and Maisie forge in the due course of the narrative. There’s not an enormity of detailing here, but it is never ineffective in presenting the boundaries of the empire. In fact, I liked how the adventure lying beyond the maps is presented with child-like exuberance but never a sense of hubris.

Additionally, the film works because it doesn’t only ‘pretend’ to be wise. It knows how it needs to deal with its small themes, and does so with a lot of intelligence. It works as a smart and often charming takedown of the oft-cursed white savior template, and critically questions the white supremacy of its humans as compared to the monsters. The fact that the film is sensitive to the face of masculine heroism and celebrates feminism in its own sharp way calls for appreciation as well. Primarily, it is about moving away from a cycle of aggression and vengeance. It is a sweet and savory drama that encourages forgiveness and condemns those in power who revise history to leak out atrocities.

The dialogues are brilliant. They are perfectly suited to the film’s 17th-century milieu and delivered with a simplicity that won’t demand a hard look at the subtitles. The film is visually stunning, and the way the frames are lit evokes Lord of the Rings and even campy creature cinema such as King Kong and Godzilla. However, the only flaw in its technicalities is a significant one. The three-dimensional animation is just not immaculate enough, and the beasts in particular are not nearly as interesting or complex as they should have been. The same goes for the unintentionally hilarious design of the empire and its ruling couple. The only piece of design that really stands out is the gigantic hunting ship Inevitable, and the ocean waters are fantastically studied.

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Beyond the animation, the film does have a few writing flaws. Although they are restricted to the overuse of exposition and the impossible amount of intelligence shown by a kid as little as Maisie, it matters because it takes a chunk of attention from the greater relevance of the film. Nevertheless, it is fascinating how it packs solid punches throughout its 115-minute running time without boring the shit out of its audience. Additionally, it is increasingly self-aware and mostly succeeds in leaving a smile on your face.

★★★

Trailer

The Sea Beast (2022) Movie Links: IMDb
The Sea Beast (2022) Movie Voice Cast: Karl Urban, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Emily O’Brien, Jared Harris, Zaris-Angel Hator, Dan Stevens

Where to watch The Sea Beast

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