Tomm Moore's Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films of the year Review
In today’s modern landscape of animated films, it is very hard to get away from the titans that make up the mainstream. Yet for every Minions or Home, there are smaller gems to be found. Tomm Moore’s 2010 Oscar nominated The Secret of Kells was such a film; a beautiful medieval fairy tale with highly memorable visuals. His latest film Song of the Sea is also a beautiful, and more modern set fairy tale, but one that has a deep and strong message about family.
Ben lives in an island lighthouse with his parents and pet dog Cú. He waits eagerly for the birth of his baby sibling, but his mother appears to die giving birth to his sister Saoirse. Six years later it is revealed that the mute Saoirse is a Selkie, able to turn into a seal when in the sea through the use of her magic coat. The children are taken to their grandmother’s house in the city, and have to journey back home and get both Saoirse’s coat and voice in order to save her and the faerie creatures of the land.
The list of delightful things about this film has been growing every day since I saw it. The animation is a flawless and flowing feast for the eyes, particularly in one ocean swimming scene, and gets across the mood of the moment effectively. You can feel the damp air of the rainy city and the cool sea breeze on an early morning. It is different to the intricate medieval angles and spirals of The Secret of Kells, but shares the same level of detail and design in the work.
The characters are all well drawn and defined, Ben in particular is a very real typical child; bratty and mean to his sister, but sweet and brave and still very much clinging to the memory of his lost mother and the stories and songs she taught him. All of the characters in Ben and Soairse’s life, from their still grieving father to their fussy grandmother, and the kind ferryman that transports people to and from the small lighthouse island, all are seen reflected in the more magical events that happen. This along with the quest nature to Ben and Saoirse’s journey gives the film a lovely cyclical nature, reminiscent of the live action Jim Henson Company films like Labyrinth, or particularly to me the highly underrated MirrorMask. The story is a mission with a purpose, but along the way there is a sense of dealing with the more personal issues of family struggle in the face of losing a loved one.
There is also a charm to the film that will feel familiar to fans of Studio Ghibli, but one that also contains its own identity. This is a film very steeped in Irish mythology and a love of stories and story-telling. It’s such a beautiful and invigorating thing to see next to seemingly endless retellings of the same fairytales from Disney. The haunting and stunning soundtrack, featuring the talents of Bruno Coulais, Kila, and Nolwenn Leroy, also features a lot of traditional Irish music and instruments, along with the beautiful song of the title, sung in both English and Irish Gaelic.
If I were to fault the film anything, it’s that there is a lot to get your head around, and whilst that won’t be a problem for older children and adults, younger ones might feel a bit lost in a few moments. However I have no doubt that they’ll enjoy it enough that any smaller elements missed the first time round will be discovered on inevitable and well worth it repeat viewings.
To put things simply the only word that can really describe Song of the Sea is enchanting, utterly and wholly. It is perfect for fans of traditional animation, people who love stories and folklore, and anyone who just wants to be swept away but its soothing beauty.