Exceptional summer cartoon surprisingly ‘Inevitable’

Picture | “The Sea Beast” – Netflix

The animated family adventure “The Sea Beast” is better than it has to be. It’s summer and this is a cartoon on Netflix — we would have watched anything. But this movie is actually great. Above-average characterization sets this stirring tale apart, as strong vocal performances bring to life an exceptionally well-done kids’ movie from Academy Award-winning writer/director Chris Williams, who also brought us “Big Hero 6” and “Moana.” Eye-popping, colorful sea beasts swim and dive through endless, beautifully animated oceans as brave hunters attempt to take down the sea beasts that threaten humans.

The action begins with an intense battle, where we meet Captain Crow (Jared Harris), a tough, legendary hunter who presides over The Inevitable ship, which, like everything else in this movie, looks really cool. The female first mate, Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), is a wonderful character, and I liked how the female characters just showed up as a part of the story; it did not feel like pandering tokenism. Captain Crow’s best friend is the equally brave and tough Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), the presumed eventual successor to captain The Inevitable. The name of the ship also describes the hunters’ worldview — they enter into their line of work assuming they will die “a good death.”

That’s where Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) comes into the picture. The orphaned child of two hunters, she is eager to take up her late parents’ way of life. She stows away on The Inevitable when it is in the port of her beautiful seaside town, which is also, as I mentioned, really cool looking. A strong sense of tradition and myth pervades the beast-hunting missions. No one questions the correctness of their actions or the worth of their sacrifices. Maisie cherishes a book about Captain Crow that describes the old days when sea beasts would pluck a lady right from her garden. Tales from the old days are central to upholding the hunters’ way of life and the kingdom they vow to protect.

With its historical setting and mythical creatures, “The Sea Beast” recalls the sprightly family adventure “How to Train Your Dragon,” and this film echoes that film’s themes of questioning how and why things have always been done a certain way. It is also like “Jaws,” “Moby Dick” and “King Kong” in a good way.

Maisie ends up on The Inevitable’s most dangerous and important mission yet — to destroy a terrifying beast called Red Bluster — and the crew, even Captain Crow, accept her because of her parents. When a shocking event separates Maisie and Jacob from the ship and the crew, their understanding of sea beasts grows beyond what they ever thought possible.

When it comes to a streaming kids’ movie, you’ll basically sit through anything once, but “The Sea Beast” is a fulfilling and beautiful movie that is also kid-oriented, and I will gladly watch it again. I am predisposed to appreciate a solid heroine, but also quick to dismiss unearned “girl power” sentiment that is tacked on for the sake of itself. Maisie is a complex, heroic character who is a female, and that is what makes her so compelling. Paired with Jacob, they are fun and exciting to watch. No one is supernaturally brave or impossibly good in this movie; they struggle, question, learn and change.

This film has a good message and a warm heart, but mostly it is exciting, and its greatest strength is in its awesome action and adventure. Because those adventures are had by such fully realized, complex characters, “The Sea Beast” is a stand-out in the family film landscape. It is meaningful but never didactic, and its admirable representation is particularly welcome because it is a natural part of this film’s fully realized landscape. And those sea beasts are just really awesome to look at.

“The Sea Beast” is now streaming on Netflix.

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