“The Sea Beast” bolts off the screen with a photo-realistic CGI animated shipwreck and a bracing blast of high stakes mayhem as told by a plucky girl, reading a dime novel on sea serpents and those who hunt them — “Tales of Captain Crow” — to her fellow orphans.
Director Chris Williams of “Moana,” “Bolt” and “Big Hero 6,” and his co-writer fold in bits of “Treasure Island,” “Moby Dick” and “Pinocchio” into their tale of that age when the ships were wooden, the crews made of iron and the deep was filled with ship-devouring beasts destined to be hunted to extinction by crews using cannon, pistols and harpoons that they try not to call “harpoons” because we all know what they’re doing in a metaphorical sense — even the kids.
The beasts are a substitute for whales.
It’s not the movie’s abrupt inevitable turn towards “There’s got to be another way” in the age-old struggle between sailors and beasts, nor the gloriously and historically-defensible diverse crew chasing the last of these “beasts” in the “hunting” ship, The Inevitable that kind of lost me. It’s the whole “How to Train Your Dragon” without the laughs that it devolves into that make this Netflix outing something of a yawner.
The action is spectacular, the menace palpable and the “see things from the ‘hunted’ beasts point-of-view” angle touching, in a metaphorical way. But swap out the humorless sailors for funny, Scots-accented Vikings, and even a ten year old will recognize “We’ve SEEN this.”
Jared Harris brings gruff gusto the role of surly Captain Crow, with Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sarah, his hyper-competent, tough, no-nonsense first mate.
But danged if the patriarchal skipper hasn’t ordained the foundling sailor and deadliest hunter Jacob (Karl Urban), whom he regards as “like a son” as his replacement on the bridge. First, though, Captain Crow has unfinished business with The Red Bluster, deadliest of the red-tails, one of many species of sea beasts that The Inevitable and its rivals hunt, at the behest of The Royals (“Downton’s” Jim Carter, and Doon Mackichan).
Meanwhile, orphan Maisie (Zaris Angel-Hator) finishes up her latest reading from “Tales of Captain Crow” to her fellow orphans, and makes her latest escape from the ever-so-nice orphanage. Her plan? To find the captain and throw in with his swarthy crew.
She only finds Jacob, on shore leave. And he’s all “A ship is no place for a kid,” which just means she’ll have to stow away to get on board.
Maisie’s efforts to intervene in the ship-vs-beast battle only get her and Jacob swallowed. And that’s how she befriends “Red” and everybody has to change her or his entire worldview.
“Maybe you can be a hero and still be wrong,” is the messaging here.
It’s more adult than you might think, but rarely jarringly-so. Generic, harmless enough and watchable, with a few touching moments — seeing the old harpoons sticking out of the “Dragon”/gecko designed beast — and plenty of violence.
But charm and humor are in shorter supply than you’d hope. There’s barely a funny moment in it, even though there are English-accented attempts at jokes about how often sailors say “Yarrrr,” and a cute baby beast is introduced, right on cue, in the later acts.
It’s better than some Netflix animated fare, but not original or fun enough to be up to the streamer’s gold standards in CGI entertainment for kids — “Klaus” or “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.”
Rating: PG, violence and lots of it
Cast: The voices of Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jim Carter, Doon Mackichan, Dan Stevens and Jared Harris.
Credits: Directed by Chris Williams, scripted by Nell Benjamin and Chris Williams. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:55