Originally published on The National Student on 09/11/15.
Tomm Moore’s charming old-school animation, a surprise entry in last year’s Oscar race, is certainly one to check out no matter your age or maturity.
Very much taking the form of an animated children’s picture book, Song of the Sea follows the adventures of the young Saoirse, a mysterious mute who possesses the ability to transform into a seal, who is sent with her older brother to stay with their authoritative grandmother in mainland Ireland.
When an enchanted shell – the only thing the pair have left to remember their deceased mother by – begins to unravel an ancient legend about frozen fairies, the two embark on a cross-country quest wherein they learn the importance of family, and embracing one’s true self.
Although this basically forms the film’s story in a nutshell, there’s so much more to Moore’s tale. In fact, a whole universe of mystical figures and magical happenings inspired by everything from fairy stories to folklore sits just behind the narrative, colouring the film with a sense of incredible depth usually long lost on an animated film of this scale. Clearly a great deal of thought has gone into the foundations of Moore’s film, and it pays off hugely, giving plenty to keep the brain occupied if the pretty pictures aren’t quite enough.
This does also have something of a negative effect too however – not majorly, but noticeably – as cramming such an insane amount of backstory into such a small-scale story can overload things a tad at times. Particularly for much younger audiences, Moore’s constant world building may make this a little too dense and overbearing to always be entirely accessible; it’s more of a cutesy celebration of childhood than a film entirely aimed at young children themselves.
When viewed in this light, Song of the Sea works best, its humour and smarts shining through on a much deeper level, bursting out through Moore’s gorgeous classical 2D animation. At times, this almost feels like the lost Irish cousin of something made by Studio Ghibli, insanely detailed and occasionally quite surreal too, but marrying all of these things together into a film that’s not only thoroughly entertaining but also really rather touching too.
By no means is this your standard Disney fare, and although this may not quite sit right with some audiences, those that do give it the time and focus it deserves will no doubt be rewarded with something both different and supremely affecting.
If Song of the Sea is anything to go by, Ireland may well have just found their very own Miyazaki. Watch this space.
Song of the Sea (2014) is released on DVD and Blu-ray today by Studiocanal. Certificate PG.