The Animation Corner: “Song of the Sea”

BY BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM

Author’s Note: This section is dedicated to calling attention to lesser-known animated movies and television. If somebody has a suggestion for me to review or discuss, feel free to email me and I will see what I can do!

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

From the creators of “The Secret of Kells” (2009), animation company Cartoon Saloon and director Tomm Moore presented “Song of the Sea”(2014), a visual spectacle rooted in Irish mythology. The movie centers on a lighthouse keeper’s son, Ben, who struggles to accept his younger sister, Saoirse, whose birth coincides with the death of their mother. When Saoirse is six, it is revealed that she and her mother are actually Selkies,  creatures that live as seals in water, but can shed their skin and live as humans on land.  leading the two siblings on an adventure to save the fairy and spirit world.

For those of you that watched “The Secret of Kells,” I can unequivocally say that “Song of the Sea” is a vast improvement. While both were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in their respective years—“Kells” losing to “Up” for 2009 and “Sea” to “Big Hero 6” for 2014—“Kells” had a chaotic plot structure, uninteresting characters and far too much mythology left unexplained for the audience.. “Sea” is tightly plotted, focusing primarily on the tense relationship between Ben and Saoirse. The mythology in the movie is not essential background knowledge, and the film does an excellent job of filling in the gaps of audience’s experiences.

I would hesitate to call this a children’s film based on the complexity of the film’s plot and themes, and its overall serious tone. The scenes involving the Deenashee (fairy folk) add  much of the film’s lighter side, but it is debatable whether or not their sillier moods add or detract from the picture. However, I definitely felt the heaviness of life in characters’ motivations and relationships that children and possibly even some young teens may not necessarily understand. However, any person at any age will undoubtedly be awed by the movie’s gorgeous animation,  a triumph and a masterpiece for 2D at a time when companies are increasingly pushing 3D animation. As for how long that novelty can sustain the movie is dependent on the viewer’s eye to detail and appreciation for subtle changes in design choices. For example, if you watch this film, pay careful attention to characters’ shadows and outlines.

“Song of the Sea” is one of the more emotional animated films you will see—depression, survivor’s guilt and loss play prominent roles. Most of the time you share in Saoirse’s exasperation at Ben’s bratty attitude, but the other times—the most critical for the film’s development—you share in Ben’s vulnerability and emotional turmoil at the death of his mother. Saoirse is a sweet and intuitive child, who adds to the mysticism of the film. The father, voiced by Brendan Gleeson—Mad-Eye Moody in the “Harry Potter” series—is both frustrating and sympathetic at once. It also contains  a striking soundtrack, with traditional Irish melodies sprinkled in throughout the film.

I highly recommend “Song of the Sea” to any person who loves art and literature, as this film is certain to inspire you and invoke your inner Selkie spirit.

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