Kitchener's Chris Williams hopes to strike Oscar gold again with The Sea Beast

Chris Williams grew up in Kitchener, Ont., and has worked on some of the biggest animated films. Now, he's written and directed Netflix's The Sea Beast, which has been nominated for a best animated feature at the Oscars.

It's 'OK to grow up and not let go of all the things that you love as a kid,' Williams says

Three people in a movie theatre.
Chris Williams, middle, is shown at the Princess Cinema screening in February of his film The Sea Beasts with the theatre's owners, John and Wendy Tutt. (Submitted by John Tutt)

Growing up in Kitchener, Ont., Oscar-nominated director Chris Williams loved Raiders of the Lost Ark

He said the action-adventure film served as "a big lightning bolt moment" that made him realize he wanted to make movies himself. 

"I was old enough to appreciate that adults made this thing and they obviously were really passionate about this material. You could just feel it on the screen," he said.

"It occurred to me that ... it was OK to grow up and not let go of all the things that you love as a kid."

Williams has worked on some of the most beloved children's films over the last three decades — Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Frozen and Big Hero 6 are just some of his projects in his 25-year career at Disney. 

Now, Williams is off the the Oscars in Los Angeles on Sunday, nominated for Netflix's The Sea Beast, in the category of best animated feature.

The films Williams has worked on have won Oscars before, but The Sea Beast is different because it's the first one he's written, directed and produced.

Sorry, no K-W references in film

Anyone hoping for any local references in the film will be disappointed, he said.

Williams went to the Princess Twin Cinemas in Waterloo for a screening of the film in early February, when he spoke to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

He said he visited his old school, Bridgeport Public School in Kitchener, while he was in town. It was during a particularly cold spell and it was snowing. 

"I was driving in almost whiteout snow and when I think about those conditions versus the experience of The Sea Beast, where they're all blue skies and the wide open sea and this sort of fantasy, fantastic world set, you know, in some sort of version of the 1600s and 1700s, it's hard to see a ton of correlation there." 

Critics and audiences both love The Sea Beast

The Sea Beast has a 94 per cent rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes, and Williams said the computer-animated adventure film has "really connected with audiences." 

"The fact that it was received well by critics and all that stuff, that actually felt really good," he said. 

LISTEN | Extended interview: Chris Williams, director of Oscar-nominated The Sea Beast:

Chris Williams was raised in Waterloo and attended the University of Waterloo. He's up for an Academy Award for his film The Sea Beast. It's nominated for best animated feature. He attended a screening at Princess Cinemas in Waterloo in early February and when in the region, he spoke with CBC K-W's Kate Bueckert about the film and the Oscars.

Williams said the Oscar nomination is surreal and comes with its own dangers. 

"You definitely don't want to dwell on it too much," he said. 

"If you sit and try to bask in it, I think that can become very dangerous because if it has any effect on you or inflates your ego ... then it's going to change your creative collaboration moving forward." 

Directing an animated movie, Williams said, is all about collaboration. 

He said in the animation industry, "people tend to be really respectful of each other, really tend to value collaboration and people don't let their egos get in the way." 


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with Ontario's six local news markets: CBC Hamilton, CBC Windsor, CBC Sudbury, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, CBC Thunder Bay and CBC London. She covers all topics, but has a special interest in reporting on social issues and community events.