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Rich visuals make ‘Sea Beast’ a shipshape children’s adventure



Rated PG. On Netflix.

Grade B+

From Netflix comes “The Sea Beast,” an animated film about a sea captain in relentless pursuit of a giant sea creature. The film has ties to “Moby Dick,” of course, but also “King Kong,” “Godzilla’ and others.

The story’s true hero is a feisty, orphan girl named Maisie Brumble (a very good Zaris-Angel Hator). The child of two maritime “hunters” of giant sea creatures, who died serving on the ship The Monarch, Maisie loves reading about the nautical adventures of Captain Augustus Crow (Jared Harris) and his crew, and she even stows away aboard his ship The Inevitable.

Aging, one-eyed Captain Crow, who recalls Captain Ahab, of course, is obsessed with killing a sea creature dubbed the Red Bluster and likes to address his adversary with such Ahab-like expressions as, “I strike at thee, devil.” The creature’s face suggests a giant red cat with a red rhino horn between its eyes. Because of the “hunter’s code,” Crow is obliged to aid another ship under attack by a different giant creature and give up pursuit of the Red Bluster in opening scenes.

We also meet stout-hearted, one-legged, first officer Sarah Sharpe (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Captain Crow’s adult, surrogate son and soon-to-be heir Jacob Holland (Karl Urban).

“The Sea Beast” works best as a straight children’s adventure film full of shanty music, seagoing adventures and salty creatures and characters with connections to the world’s most famous seagoing tales from Sinbad the Sailor to Captain Jack Aubrey of “Master and Commander.”

Maisie and Jacob are separated from the Inevitable after a battle with Red Bluster and spend time alone with the gigantic creature Maisie calls Red. Captain Crow and his crew, meanwhile, take the damaged Inevitable to visit a witch-like woman, who supplies them with a giant harpoon and a poison to kill the beast.

“The Sea Beast” stumbles a bit when it tries to be politically enlightened. The main lesson of this sort is that the giants of the deep are not enemies of humans, but their friends, as it turns out, and that the hunters’ longtime struggle against them has been is an invention of the monarchical hierarchy, which has been enriched by the struggle between the beasts and hunters.

Featuring a blue little deep-sea creature that becomes Maisie’s pet and is a dead-ringer for Stitch from “Lilo & Stitch,” “The Sea Beast” is nothing if not derivative. But its high seas visuals and watery action scenes are impressive, and if you’re a sucker for these tales, you’re going to enjoy the film. Director Chris Williams, who helmed “Big Hero 6” and co-directed Disney’s “Moana,” has a strong visual sensibility. In one scene, Maisie and Jacob ride underwater along with Red nestled inside the creature’s nostril. The giant monster purrs like a cat. That’s Dan Stevens as sneering Admiral Hornagold.

The screenplay by Williams and Nell Benjamin might be flawed. But “The Sea Beast” has a lovably spunky hero in Maisie, and it’s full of wonders. It’s worth watching just for the jaunty score of three-time Grammy Award winner Mark Mancina, my mateys.

“The Sea Beast” contains action, violence and strong language.

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