After weeks of promises I will finally be able to review Tomm Moore’s animated film Song of the Sea – my second installment for the two “Chinese f-cking things” nominated for best Animated Feature (the first being The Tale of the Princess Kaguya). That I enjoyed it was not a surprise; that I found it to be as enthralling as it was definitely was. What I am going to say sounds hyperbolic, but I do believe that Song of the Sea just might be one of the best animated films that I have ever seen.
The plot centers around two siblings, Ben and Saoirse, who embark on a journey home when it is revealed that Saoirse is a selkie (a human that can transform into a seal) and she must return to the sea in order to save the fantasy realm, as well as herself. Along the way they meet fairies trapped in stone, an owl witch corrupted by a fear of emotions, and more.
Song of the Sea might be a family film, but it is not a “kid’s” film. While not overly dark, it does confront some complex issues through its characters. The importance of emotions is visualized through the antagonist, a witch who deprives individuals of their emotions and turns them to stone so that they may be “free” of the pain that comes with being emotional. What could have been a typical villain turned into one of the film’s most complex and sympathetic characters. Ben and his father’s relationship with Saoirse also suggests the impact that the loss of their mother/wife has had (she was a selkie who left to the ocean). Ben acts resentful towards Saoirse, perhaps because he blames her for what he believes his his mother’s death (she waded out into the ocean in order to give birth to Saoirse), while their father is ultra protective and does everything he can to prevent the loss of his daughter to the ocean.
The striking visuals capture the fantastical nature of the film. Unlike anything I have seen in mainstream animated films, the uniqueness of this film’s look only makes it stand out even more. The story is bathed in celtic lore and mythology. The music carries this tone as well, which is something else that resonated (but maybe that is because I am a sucker for celtic tunes). I also loved the setting, and how it was a mix of fantasy and modernity. Stories that center on somebody in our world and reality discovering some fantastical truth are always fascinating.
What most elevated this film, however, was the characters. Each has his or her own story to tell, and many managed to be flawed yet likeable. You make such a connection with them that you will likely find yourself on the verge of tears at least once for their sake, or perhaps beyond the verge as I was.
Overall this was a fantastic movie; one that I am thrilled that I had the privilege to see. Bottom line: please see this masterwork of a film at your earliest convenience. Show it to your younger siblings as well. It deserves much more attention and I really hope more films like it are made in the future whether they come from Ireland, Japan, or the United States.