Friday, 11 December 2015

Song of the Sea (2014) review

Watching Tomm Moore's Song of the Sea created huge waves of nostalgia in me. I remember when I was a young child being entranced by stories of mythology and folklore, and being indulged by my parents with beautifully illustrated books of fairies and woodland creatures. Song of the Sea takes the traditional Gaelic tale of selkies, creatures who take human form on land and transform into seals in the sea, as its basis, as well as other figures like Seanchai and Macha the Owl Witch.

Ben (David Rawle) is a young boy who is obsessed with the stories and songs his late mother taught him, but has become resentful of his younger sister Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell), as his mother disappeared when she was born. On her birthday, Saoirse "borrows" her mother's seashell horn, given to Ben, which sets in motion her uncovering her mother's seal skin coat. While Saoirse discovers her true identity as a selkie, it is at this unfortunate point that their grandmother decides that a living on a lighthouse is no place for kids, and takes them to the city. Saorise can't survive without the coat, without the sea, and it's up to Ben to get her back home.

The first thing that needs to be brought up is just how attractive this film is. Setting itself apart from the current trend in its use of traditional, 2D animation, the film manages to create a child friendly look while creating some stunning, painterly images, clearly influenced by Insular art. The pacing is also gentle but consistent, bringing comparisons to its closest contemporary, Studio Ghibli (Castle in the Sky was another obsession of mine as a child). That comparison is apt, as it shares a consideration for the integrity of the audience, while marrying creative visuals to truly engrossing plot. A distinct lack of music is apparent too, used mostly to suggest the magical qualities of Saorise's selkie abilities, in stark contrast to the EDM laden soundtracks of many kids films that have come out recently.

The ending was emotional but not manipulative (unlike Pixar's latest self-aware effort), leaving me tearing up slightly. Song of the Sea is a rare gem of a film, a perfect mixture of style and substance, which left me more intrigued then ever at the folklore of the UK and Ireland, as well as the capabilities of animation.



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