Anybody who knows me knows that seals are my favorite animal, so when I started seeing advertisements for Song of the Sea, I knew I had to check it out. Cartoon Saloon had already impressed me with its first feature film, Secret of Kells, so I had a feeling this movie would at least be on par with that one.
Song of the Sea stands out in a 3D obsessed animation industry as an entirely 2D, hand drawn film. It harkens back to older animated films, while still being fresh and unique, and its story is sure to pull on your heartstrings.
Song of the Sea
Director: Tomm Moore
Release Date: January 9, 2015 (Limited)
As a child, Ben grew up hearing folktales from his mother. He lived with her, his father, and his dog, Cu, in a lighthouse on a tiny island. Everything seemed perfect until one night, his mother vanished, leaving behind a little baby girl named Saoirse. Unbeknownst to Ben, his mother was actually a selkie; a mythical creature who is a woman on land and a seal in the sea.
A few years later, Ben and Saoirse’s grandmother comes to visit, and Saoirse sneaks out in the middle of the night after finding a glowing, white coat, her selkie coat, and swims with seals. When Saoirse washes up on the shore, their grandmother states that living there is too dangerous and takes her and Ben to live in the city. Separated from her selkie coat, Saoirse begins to deteriorate, and it’s up to Ben to get her back to the sea.
It’d be easy to just call this movie cute and charming and leave it at that, but there’s so much more to Song of the Sea than just some sweet looking characters. Like Secret of Kells, it’s steeped in Irish folklore and carries some pretty strong messages about family and the environment.
Ben and Saoirse’s relationship is at the forefront of the story. Ben blames his sister for their mother’s disappearance and becomes easily annoyed with her, but as their adventure unfolds, they have to learn to work together. While at the beginning of the film, it seems like their family is falling apart, Ben and Saoirse forge a bond that helps to rebuild what they lost.
There are a lot of unique things about Song of the Sea. The thing that stands out the most, of course, is the animation. Cartoon Saloon is not afraid to take chances and make their movies look different. While Secret of Kells looked like an illuminated manuscript, Song of the Sea unfolds like a storybook.
From revealing burrows where animals live to showing sprawling cities and countryside landscapes, the scenery in Song of the Sea is beautiful and awe-inspiring. The backgrounds are intricate and delicately painted, and contrast smoothly against the simple, shape-based characters that explore them. Unlike most 3D films that strive to work in a realistic way, this film has its own language that could only work in an animated format.
It comes as no surprise to me that Song of the Sea was nominated for a Best Animated Film Oscar. It’s not a Disney or Dreamworks film, but I think Cartoon Saloon is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of animation. They may not put out a blockbuster film every year, but when they do release something, it comes from the heart. There’s something about Song of the Sea that speaks to its audience on a spiritual level, and its powerful story has appeal for both young and old.