Director: Tomm Moore
Cast: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan
Running Time: 93 mins
Release Date: July 10th
The latest release from director Tomm Moore, of Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells fame, sees him take on Irish myths and legends and weave them into a beautiful, and somewhat tragic, tale of family, love, loss and overcoming.
Ben, voiced by Moone Boy’s David Rawle, is a 10 year old boy living in a lighthouse in rural Ireland with his father Conor (Brendan Gleeson), and his unspeaking 4 year old sister Saoirse. Ben’s mother had disappeared in mysterious circumstances on the night of Saoirse’s birth, sending his father into a depression and leaving Ben harbouring feelings of resentment towards his sister, who is a constant reminder of his mother’s absence.
Their grandmother, Granny (Fionnula Flanagan), comes to visit on Saoirse’s birthday, determined that the children should move to the city and get away from what she feels are unsuitable conditions to raise children. That night, Saoirse sneaks out of bed and discovers a sealskin coat hidden in her father’s closet. She is drawn to the sea and once submerged she is revealed to be a selkie, a mythical Irish creature who can transform from seal to human form once they leave the sea. She is found later that night washed up on the shore by Granny, who decides that is the final straw and the very next day takes the children to live with her in the city.
What follows is an adventure that leads the children into contact with faeries, magic, and characters from Irish mythology like Mac Lír and Macha, while Ben tries to return home to his father and beloved dog Cú. The faeries believe that Saoirse has the power to save them and lead them to Tír na nÓg, and when she begins to fall ill, Ben finds himself in a race against time to save his sister and the faerie folk.
The film is stunningly beautiful to look at. The characters, simplistic in design themselves, move through richly detailed, lush landscapes, that burst with magic and mystery, in a way that mirrors the film’s own hidden depths. Bruno Coulais and Irish favourites Kila collaborate, as they did on The Secret of Kells, on the haunting score, full of traditional Irish rhythms and themes.
While Song of the Sea may be aimed at children, and have a surface adventure plot that will appeal to them, there is such complexity of emotion and allegory lying below the surface that it will take adults a few views to digest. Themes of loss, death and acceptance are dealt with using the mythology of the selkies while we are also asked to question old beliefs and their place in a modern world. The film’s ending is also incredibly emotionally charged and will have more than a few tears being shed in the aisles.
The great power of Song of the Sea is that it’s not afraid to tell its own story. It won’t be tied to conventional narratives or obvious animated tropes. There really is something for everyone here, from the animation to the score, the kid’s adventure, to the allegorical themes running through it; all of which is steeped in the old Irish storytelling tradition. A visual and emotional feast for all the family, that will be returned to again and again.