The Sea Beast – An Epic Moby Dick and Master Political Metaphor (3.5*)

The Sea Beast has terrific computer animation, a Moby Dick story, a young girl as the leading character, and multiple political and social threads for adults. (3.5*)
The Sea Beast
The Sea Beast

The Sea Beast – Snapshot

The Sea Beast  (3.5*) has some terrific computer-generated animation, especially the water scenes.  It has a Moby Dick-based story and a young girl major character that kids will find fun and inspirational.  And, for the adults, there are multiple political and social threads to tug at.

Where to Watch:

Stream: Netflix

Rent: (Nowhere I could find)

The Sea Beast – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations:

Animated Feature Film

The Sea Beast received a single nomination for Animated Feature Film, putting it in our “special interest” list. (Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won the Oscar!) The movie was helmed by Chris Williams who was previously nominated for his movie Bolt (08) and won the Animated Feature Oscar for Big Hero 6 (14).  Marianne Jean-Baptiste (plays Sarah Sharpe in The Sea Beast) received a supporting actress nomination for Secrets & Lies (96).

The Sea Beast – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One (and if you like these films, you might like this one):

Moana (16)/Big Hero 6 (14): Director(Williams)

Twister (96)/Speed (94)/Training Day (01): Composer (Mancina)

Game of Thrones (TV): Costumes(Clapton) Emmy Winner

The Sea Beast is an animated film directed and co-written by Chris Williams who held similar roles with the two movies cited above.  The other entries are listed because I suspect many viewers are familiar with them.  I was unable to find much in the way of connections between other cast and crew members.

The Sea Beast – What Others Think

The Sea Beast is not well received by either the viewing public or critics.  Audience ratings are low in numbers, but those who have seen and rated it placed it fourth among this year’s animated films, barely above bottom-rated Turning Red. Across all 39 of this year’s films, it came in 26th.  Unfortunately, it didn’t receive a lot of love, although it does rate about the same as The Batman.

Professional critics rated it similarly, ranking it fourth, just above Puss in Boots: The Last Wish among this year’s animated films.  It is interesting, though, that the aggregate indexes are based on a very limited number of reviews, reflecting, I suppose, a general reluctance among professional critics to review animated movies. (In the case of Metascore, only 20 critical reviews were considered). I find it especially fun when I find two critics who have nearly opposite opinions, even when based on the same elements.  Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert) liked the movie finding it “fun, smart, and sneakily deep.”  He remarks “…it’s the script that will sneak up on you with themes worth discussing with the kids when it’s over.”  But Lena Wilson (New York Times) found the movie to be “capably animated”, especially the underwater shots, but thought that the story dragged and “the script’s greatest sin is its steadfast predictability.  Lessons are learned and enemies fought, but nothing very surprising happens in between.”  So one critic finds the script “predictable” while another says it “will sneak up on you”.  And, believe it or not, they are talking about the same movie!

The Sea Beast – Special Mention

Moby Dick and the Movies – The Sea Beast is a retelling of  Melville’s Moby Dick. From the sea captain who has suffered a physical loss, to the wooden leg (in this case, on a different crew member), to the necessity for revenge, to the stowaway – the references to the novel are many.  What I did not know, until now, is that this The Sea Beast is actually a remake of a 1926 silent film of exactly the same name starring John Barrymore as Captain Ahab.  Interestingly a reviewer of the original film remarked “the iconic image of an angry embittered American slaying a mythic beast seemed to capture the popular imagination.”  (I have more to say about these parallels below.)

Netflix Animation – The Sea Beast is a production of Netflix Animation Studios, a subsidiary of the streaming giant.  Netflix created the studio in 2018 and their first feature film was Oscar-nominated Klaus (3.5*), released a year later.  In my review of that film I remarked that the computerized animation had unique qualities.  A year later they released Over the Moon (3*) which, once again, demonstrated unusually good visuals and received a second Oscar nomination for the studio.  Although they concentrate on computer animation movies, the studio also released this year’s Oscar winner, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which employed a uniquely fluid stop-motion form of animation.  So that’s four Oscar nominations and one win in their first four years in business.  In short, Netflix Animation Studio is a source of high-quality animated films and we can expect it to confidently compete with longer-known studios like Disney, Pixar, Warner Brothers and Dreamworks.

The Sea Beast – Michael’s Moments

The Sea Beast, as the RogerEbert reviewer Brian Tallerico noted, sneaks up on you with script elements that might not appear evident initially, but start to manifest as you probe around a bit.  To have this kind of subtlety in an animated film, ostensibly for kids, is rather unusual.  But it does go a long way to making the film approachable from many different perspectives, which gives it some additional value to older viewers while keeping the younger family members entranced with the basic story line.

For one thing, you can’t miss all the references to Moby Dick.  From the fact that a handicapped ship captain is out for revenge against the Sea Beast who injured him, to the wooden leg of the first mate, to the presence of a stowaway, it is clear that The Sea Beast is a new version of the classic novel.  (I suppose that knowledge of the silent film of the same name would make this more than a little obvious.)

But there are also some themes in the film that seem to have political connections and I can’t quite sort them all out.  One very noticeable characteristic is that the crew of the monster-hunting ship, The Inevitable, is a seamless, and apparently conflict-free, mix of races, ages, and genders.  The filmmakers have accentuated the mix by hiring voice actors and crew members from New Zealand, along with heavy-accents from all over Great Britain reflecting Scottish, Irish, as well as English backgrounds.  Zaria-Angel Hator, the teenager who plays Maisie, a child in the film, is Black and British and adds a delightful accent that almost sounds Caribbean.  What is fascinating about this mix is how well everyone on the ship seems to get along.  One could easily interpret this as an intentional expression of “wokeness”.  (Note: I, for one, don’t think that is a bad thing!)

It isn’t just Maisie’s age, gender and skin color that becomes important in this film.  She has a definite reason to want to kill sea monsters, but she learns that maybe that reason has been doctored and modified in a fashion by those in power as a mechanism of control – the mechanisms of fear and anger as levers of control is an important theme.  And it is Maisie, the youngest crew member, who actually figures out what is going on and sees to it that the situation is corrected.  I can’t help but wonder if the film’s creators weren’t trying to include a reference to our own current world situation.  As the reviewer of the original The Sea Beast observed, America seems energized by anger to slay a mythic beast.  Why is it our leaders take us on those kinds of epic adventures?

Finally, you will learn that the big monster which is central to most of the movie is known as a Red Bluster.  It has already been commented by others about how “Red”, as Maisie calls him, isn’t exactly a threatening creature.  In fact, aside from his color and size, he almost seems like a huge version of a bathtub toy.  Yet this is the monster that has supposedly terrorized humans for much of history.  As if we had to be hit over the head, there is an obvious reason why the filmmakers named him the way they did.  A “bluster” is a “loud, aggressive, or indignant talk with little effect”.  In other words, he is, ultimately, without much power – he isn’t at all what people think he is.  I can’t help but wonder if that is an explicit reference to certain public figures of our time.  And then there is the color red.  Indeed!

The Sea Beast isn’t the greatest animated flick ever made, but it has intriguing underwater animation and an overall flowing quality to the visuals that is state of the art.  And it has enough interesting story lines which sneak up on you and make you wonder if there are deep threads of political metaphor working inside this movie. Watch it and judge for yourself! (3.5*)

The Sea Beast

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