Chris Williams is finally sailing solo thanks to Netflix giving him his solo directorial debut, The Sea Beast (which he also co-wrote and produced). Chris Williams has been working in animation since 1998 when he started at Walt Disney Animation as a story artist for Mulan. Ten years later, he got his first chance to direct a feature film by co-directing Bolt. He would go on to co-direct Big Hero 6 and Moana for the House of Mouse as well, winning Best Animated Feature for Big Hero 6.
The premise of the film is simple: the hunters protect the kingdom from the giant sea creatures referred to as “beasts”. It’s what The Sea Beast does with this premise that makes it a truly special film. It takes a surprising turn as a commentary on history and if we should believe everything that’s written versus what’s in front of us; it’s certainly topical for the times we live in and I commend Williams for making it accessible through animation.
Speaking of the animation, it’s absolutely gorgeous throughout the film. The water is some of the best animated water I’ve seen since Moana. The character designs are top notch as well, especially for the beasts. Red and Blue are standouts in terms of character design, with Red being able to show her vicious but caring sides beautifully. The writing is also fantastic, full of humor and heart with great world building right from the start. The characters that we are supposed to care about we do and the ones we aren’t, we don’t; that’s all you could ask for.
Karl Urban does a brilliant job voicing Jacob (in surprisingly his first animated film) and it makes me want him to do more voice acting. He makes Jacob a three dimensional character and has great chemistry with Jared Harris as Captain Crow and Zaris-Angel Hator as Maisie. The only other crew member of the Inevitable that gets decent time is Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sarah Sharpe, the first mate, but the rest of the crew gets some moments when battling the sea beasts.
The film is at its best when it focuses on Jacob and Maise; they are the heart of the film and they are so similar in more ways than they would like to admit. Maisie opens Jacob’s eyes to the flaws in their history and that the beasts might be more than they appear to be. While it sounds familiar, its delivered in such a fresh way that it really connects you to these characters.
I think Netflix has a hit on its hands, critically and with audiences. The Sea Beast is the best animated film of the year that I’ve seen so far, better than Lightyear and Minions: The Rise of Gru. I believe it is the first true contender for Best Animated Feature of the year; it also has the strongest chance of winning the award in the end. Chris Williams is certainly a director to watch now and if Netflix was smart, they would let him sign an overall deal and keep him in house; he’s a talented creative mind that they shouldn’t let slip away.