This past year has been a true renaissance for animation, from Inside Out to Big Hero 6 to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and with Song of the Sea, that rich ingenuity continues. After the disappearance of his mother, Ben, an adventure-seeker, is left on his own with his broken father and his young sister Saoirse, who he considers a nuisance. Saoirse is a 6-year-old who has never learned to speak and unintentionally causes Ben nothing but trouble, but in actuality, she is actually the last of the Selkies, a race of women who can turn into seals. When her power is revealed, the siblings are drawn into the world of fairy folk, witches and magic – and Ben has to step up to keep his sister safe from harm.
Directed by Tomm Moore, who in the past had directed the equally fabulous The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea is beautifully enchanting and wonderfully engrossing animation with genuine appeal for all ages. This year’s Oscars’ animation category saw this up against Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which just demonstrates that animation can be wonderfully diverse and enriching cinema outside the live-action filmmaking spectrum. In fact, whilst Big Hero 6 was a worthy winner for the ‘Best Animated Film’ Oscar, this actually deserved that title much more.
Much like The Secret of the Kells, this is deeply rooted within Irish folklore, being a story that has these magical fantasy elements of Selkies, Faeries and Giants slipping in and out of a tale where we find these two young siblings being separated from their father and are trying to find their way back home. The story in itself is cut from the same mould as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but that does not make the whole thing stale or formulaic, far from it. It was executed in a brilliantly engaging way, allowing us to become invested in the two children and how closely they bond with each other over the course of the film. The voice acting is superb, doing away with the clichéd reliance of Hollywood talent and getting in people whose voices match with the characters on screen. Even the soundtrack by Bruno Coulais was absolutely gorgeous and very well-fitted with that world and culture.
What the film certainly doesn’t lack in is its artistic department as the animation is very distinctive, absolutely beautiful to behold, resolutely 2D, heartbreakingly rendered, honest and truthful to the Celtic roots of the story, and is almost a character in and of itself. The spiralling landscapes and colour schemes felt very distinctive and clever in its usage, with the deep rich blue of the faerie world contrasting with the yellow/browns of the mainland. Its jaw-dropping visual style harks back to the painted-hues of Studio Ghibli, whilst also containing elements of both Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
The Song of the Sea is a genuine, heartfelt family film that will work across all age demographics, and everyone watching it will probably see something in it that’ll stay with them long after the film has ended. It’s a proper animated classic that’ll stand the test of time and real testament to animation’s current golden age.
SONG OF THE SEA / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: TOMM MOORE / SCREENPLAY: WILL COLLINS / STARRING: DAVID RAWLE, BRENDAN GLEESON, LISA HANNIGAN, FIONNULA HANNIGAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW