The robust family adventure “The Sea Beast,” appearing today on Netflix, is one of the biggest movie surprises of the year so far. Fun, smart, and sneakily deep, it has elements that will be familiar to families around the world.
The action scenes have been very carefully constructed and considered, but it’s the script that will sneak up on you with themes worth discussing with the kids when it’s over. “You can be a hero and still be wrong” isn’t exactly a brand-new theme in adventure fiction, but it feels like a more important one in today’s world, and it’s nice to see a fantasy film for families that doesn’t talk down to kids.
The animated movies that have sustained in history trust children to follow complex plots and themes. It’s great to see that kind of trust reemerge in a film that never forgets to be entertaining too.
Chris Williams (who co-directed “Big Hero 6” and “Moana”) makes his confident solo debut with a script he co-wrote with Nell Benjamin that subverts classic seafaring adventure mythology. After a brief prologue that introduces us to Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) as she flees her orphanage in search of greater adventure, Williams and his team stage an impressive battle at sea between two monster-hunting ships and a massive beast.
The Ahab of this tale, Crow represents the old guard hunter, someone who has been doing this so long that he’s obsessed with hunting the creature that took his eye, no matter the cost.
When Maisie stows away on their ship as they hunt said the sea beast, a red giant known as the Bluster, everything changes. Through a series of action-driven events, Maisie and Jacob discover that everything they’ve been told about the battle between man and monster has been a myth.