Director: Tomm Moore
Starring: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan (voices only)
Running time: 93 minutes
Since Tomm Moore’s success with the stunning Oscar-nominated animation The Secret of Kells (2009), his next feature had been widely anticipated, as it would present another opportunity to sample some of the rich hand drawn animation that took centre stage in his previous film. News that Song of the Sea had followed the footsteps of its predecessor, being Moore’s second feature to be Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year in 2014, as well as a late release of 10th July 2015 in the UK, only served to heighten the anticipation.
Song of the Sea does not disappoint, Moore presents a film that flourishes in its visuals and its narrative. The film centres on Ben and his mute younger sister, Saoirse, who he later discovers is, as their mother was, a Selkie; a mythological creature rooted in Scottish and Irish folklore that lives as a seal when in the sea, but remains human on land. Ben seems to reject Saoirse as a means of coping with his mother’s death during her birth, whilst Saoirse is instinctively drawn to the sea to find her voice and sing her Selkie song which is at once repressed. Ben and Saoirse are taken to live in the city by their grandmother under the pretence that Saoirse will no longer be drawn to the sea, but the loss of her Selkie coat proves fatal. The film charts the siblings’ adventure to return home to the sea, save Saoirse and free the faeries.
The script is wonderfully written, exposing all the traits, tics and humour rooted in the siblings’ relationship, those that are recognisable within every often turbulent sibling bond, as the film progresses. The young David Rawle is excellent in portraying the intricate conflicts and imbalances that can be present in a child’s outlook, with the equal naivety, idealism and sadness that is required for Ben’s character. Not to mention Brendan Gleeson who is fantastic in returning to the role of the father, as he did in The Secret of Kells. His performance is so heart-breaking in its subtlety and sorrow that it adds the right amount of pathos, without outshining the leads. An abundance of references to folklore and storytelling are prominent and become themes, stories within stories are told, revised and relayed, which only adds to the fantastical splendour the animation and the film as a whole has to offer.
There is no doubt that the animation is the real shining point of the film, the credits even show snapshots of the animation process to enlighten any enthusiast. The contrasting textures captured by the hand drawn animation, such as the often brooding and tempestuous skies, are unbelievably beautiful and mesmerising for the viewer. The exceptional illustrative talent combines with a spirited, thoughtful narrative, and an equally vibrant and unique soundtrack to produce a film that really is a work of art. Evidently a work of art that attracted a whole body of different individuals; as I peered around to observe my fellow viewers, I saw families, couples, groups of friends, and lone cinema-goers like myself of all ages. Song of the Sea can be appreciated by all, and is as much an intimate family drama with enough pathos to pack a punch as it is a magical fantasy that can entertain crowds with its spectacle.