There’s nothing like a good story to capture your attention and captivate your imagination, and if there are any cultures that have epic and colorful tales, it’s the Irish. With tales of spirits and kings, faeries and witches, it’s no wonder that a film about selkies manages to be whimsical and yet still relatable.
Let’s take a look at Song of the Sea.
Song of the Sea follows brother and sister duo Ben and Saoirse in their costal home. When Saoirse discovers her selkie coat and dives into the ocean for the first time, their father Conor sends them both away to avoiding losing her the way he lost his wife. As the two bicker and fight on their way back home, it turns out that Saoirse is the only one capable of saving the fae and sending them home, but without her coat she will die. It’s a race against the clock for Ben to help save the face and his sister.
The crafting of the narrative is excellent. The animosity between brother and sister is particularly well written and realistic. Writing a family dynamic, especially one going through loss, can be tricky but the film handles it with grace and a surprising amount of seriousness. The story also has parallels with things happening in Ben’s real life, like the loss of his mother and dealing with others trying to tell him what is best which really tie the whole concept together. It also helps that there is a tying between the ancient and mystical to the contemporary, giving it a more connected feel.
The voice over work is especially excellent, though it also helps that everyone has a glorious Irish brogue. Ben sounds appropriately young and angry, Macha/Granny mixes kind with misdirected intentions, though the best is Ben and Saoirse’s mother Bronagh, who has a fantastic singing voice. Overall the quality of the acting is very high, as is the dialogue itself, which is crisp and cool when it’s biting and warm and melodic when it’s unfolding its layers.
Another great aspect is the music, most of which is in Irish (or Irish Gaelic, however you prefer to call it) but it is generally gorgeous so even if you don’t speak it it’s a real treat to hear. Being a cultural outsider who is very unfamiliar with Irish lore, I’m not sure if these are all traditional songs or if they were written for the film. I know that figures like Mac Lir, Macha and the others are gods and spirits of lore so it would stand to reason the songs were as well. Unlike some other films this year who will not be mentioned, the music adds to the overall experience rather than acting as a nuisance.
The art style is simply gorgeous. The traditional look and feel of the water colors makes it an animation experience that should be seen in as high definition and on as big a screen as possible. The visuals also carry a charming and distinctive style that reminds me of an intricate storybook that would have been any child’s prized possession. It is through these unique and colorful imagery that the film really makes it stand out amongst the smoothly defined CGI features that have been coming out. If you’ve been looking for an artful film to give you those familiar holiday fuzzier or just a feel-good pick me up, this will do it for you.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws. There a couple of plot holes, like how can their father not know that keeping the coat away will kill Saoirse when his wife was a selkie or how come no one found Saoirse before when her mother was a selkie? If she was the one way to potentially get home, you think someone would scope out the situation. Still, these are very minor compared to the intricate and heartwarming story.
Song of the Sea is one of the most impressive animated films this year, if not within the last decade. If it is playing in a theater near you, you need to go see and financially support the film as one of the last bastion of traditional animation. It may receive an Oscar nod though it likely won’t win against one of the bigger studios’ productions, but that will hopefully remind people that animated films can be just as artful as live action ones.
– Gorgeous animation.
– Strong writing.
– Great voice acting.
– Good music.
– Plot holes.