Scene 22 – Song of the Sea

*Cue smoke machine….spot light centre stage*  “Hi Guys!”, the author say in his best prepubescent voice!….
I think that’s the kind of entrance I’d like this blog to make each week…and yes I have said each week, because I’m back to offer you my weekly brain burps on film that I have watched. I am sorry that I left you alone, and cold in the dark…again…but work got in the way. Saying that I am procrastinating from more work, by writing this actual blog…but…I truly loved this film so it most definitely worth the time spent writing and in fact reading.

Let me paint you a scene as you wind through a landscape populated with fairies, giants turned to, selkies and painfully tormented humans, Song of the Sea enthrals by merging the lines between the common and fantastical. Following on from his Oscar nominated début with Secret of Kells, director Tomm Moore’s second film with his team at Cartoon Saloon, is a far more personal piece.

Song of the Sea is part folk tale, part family drama, as Moore returns to the rich history of Celtic folklore, finding it lurking within the cracks of a broken family. Creating a powerful, yet refreshingly simple twist. Ben (voiced by David Rawle) lives with widowed father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and his mute little sister Saoirse in a lighthouse. Ben prefers the simple companionship of this sheepdog Cu to Saoirse, for whom in a heartbreakingly complicated ball of emotion, he blames for the loss of their mother. So he clings to the vague, magical memories of her songs and stories as comfort from a cold, soulless father. To make matters worse, their sharp, stubborn Grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) arrives, coming up with the conclusion that only way to fix the family: take the children to Dublin, leaving Conor, and Ben’s beloved Cu behind. Just on cue, the night before their departure, Saoirse stumbles across hidden corners of their lighthouse, finding old family secrets that lie awaiting to be discovered.

Upon their arrival in Dublin, Ben is immediately determined to return, reluctantly taking Saoirse with him. Their journey submerses them into a fantastical, rich of history, myths and legends. *spoliers* There is something so enchanting about the way that the trio of stone fairies are discovered by the siblings in an overgrown roundabout in the middle of the town. The dialogue between the real world and the old world of legend doesn’t just lend itself to wondrous imagery, but also captures the ideas that hold real weight and are the driving forces within the film.

It is evident that Moore and everyone at the studio are proud for it’s Irish origins, honouring it’s folklore and culture, all the while technically taking the influence from 50’s American animation, Japanese anime and ancient Celtic art. Song of the Sea combines all these qualities, interweaving them in a compelling and original fashion. The studio uses every opportunity to take full advantage of the animated medium, delightful telling the story through shapes and symbols. The father, Conor, always hunched, sometimes over a Guinness in a dingy pub, has his sorrow echoed by a giant rock that lies offshore, curled over in an identical manner as if it bears the battering waves. Details like this are typical of the history found in every corner of each frame.

Such resonance weaves throughout the film, and demonstrates a devotion to theme shared with the best of children literature. This is evident as Ben and Satires travel deeper into the past, the world grows ever more fantastical, but not at the expense of the human story. Ben moves with the steely and passionate inconsistencies of primary-school boy, and Saoirse with the quiet, observant and playful demeanour of a real toddler coming to school age. Just like life, everyone is presented as flawed, complex creatures. As the background art enchants with wondrous colour and texture, the character animation is commendably reserved. It is a fantastic technique that the animators, who breathe life into the simple designs, using behaviour that hints each character being the mere tip of a human iceberg.

The reaches its ‘bell’ when the Owl Witch (also voiced by Fionnula Flanagan), bear uncanny echoes to Ben and Saoirse’s own lives. Her Obsession with “eliminating suffering” is an achingly honest mirror of Grandma, who strives, to the point of further damage, to heal. There is a robustness to the deceptive simplicity of Song of the Sea that is reminiscent to that of the great Hayao Miyazaki,with core plots similar to My Neighbour Totoro or Ponyo. Saying this, Moore and his studio contemporaries have made a truly unique world with a distinguished voice. But just like Miyazaki, Moore posits himself that hand-drawn animation in itself has a timeless quality that is impervious to age.