First off, my congratulations to you and the entire production team of Song of the Sea. It’s been a few years since Tomm Moore’s Academy Award nomination for The Secret of Kells, and I’m so glad to see him back on the list of nominees for Best Animated Feature. In a field now completely saturated with mind-melting 3D and geeky-cool, I appreciate the occasional return to an elegant, hand-drawn 2D look and a story that is enchantingly simple and sweet. No cheeseburgers flying out of the screen at your head here – just a wee tale of love, loss, and magic.
Ben lives in a lighthouse and spends his days with his dog, Cù. He misses his mother, and loves remembering the stories she used to tell. He has neither the time nor the patience for his adoring little sister, Saoirse, who is painfully cute and has never spoken a word. Neglected by their father, who is still wracked with grief over the loss of his wife, Ben and Saoirse are bundled off to live in the city with their Granny, who takes no guff from anyone. Far away from their home by the sea, Saoirse falls ill. She is revealed to be the last of the Selkies, mysterious half-seal-half-humans of Irish myth. And so Ben must race to save his sister, and other various fairies, witches, and elves kicking around the Irish countryside.
All animated films walk the line between art appreciation and entertainment, usually dipping more towards one or the other. There were moments during the film when I wondered if this one was perhaps more for the grown-ups, given its softer, more meditative pacing compared to – well – fast food flying at one’s head. But the littlest filmgoers in the theatre were drawn right in, all saucer eyes and slack jaws. I think it had something to do with the wonderful use of contrast. I loved the powdery watercolour backgrounds blending together the ‘normal’ world with the world of magical beings. Eye-catching on their own, they are the perfect backdrop to the sharper, more vivid character designs, like that of Granny, who somehow looks wonderfully round and pinched at the same time. The visual contrasts in the artwork complement the thematic contrasts between ancient and present-day, ordinary and magic.
There is much to take away from the film, depending on your outlook. I saw it as a cautionary tale against helicopter parenting and exerting too much control on a child’s behaviour (basically don’t tell your kids to calm down or behave or they will literally shrivel up and turn grey). My companion saw a surprisingly dark tale of grief and emotional repression, and also came away with a sense of guilt over all the times he was ‘a shitty big brother’. The soft pacing and lilting lullaby soundtrack allow for a degree of contemplation you just don’t get with giant 3D ice-cream sundaes, or lemurs who like to move it-move it. I’m a huge fan of the aforementioned lemur, but I could definitely go for more of this sort of quieter, gentler animated offering.