Beautiful, magical and affecting, Tomm Moore’s Song Of The Sea is a touchstone for the continued importance of mythology and traditional animation.
Álainnby Dave O’Flanagan
Bookended by two of the most influential productions in the country’s history in Excalibur and My Left Foot, the 1980s heralded a prosperous era for Ireland’s film industry. As a freckled little Cork kid, it wasn’t Boorman, Sheridan or Brown that ignited my imagination, it was Feivel, Littlefoot, Charlie B. Barkin and the films of Don Bluth. Based in Dublin, Sullivan Bluth Studios delivered seminal animated classics An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven. With double Oscar nominations to his name, director Tomm Moore is reinvigorating the art of traditional animation as well as inspiring a new generation of Irish artists and filmmakers. His second feature builds upon the reputation he’s earned as a champion of Irish culture, language and mythology culminating in the beautiful and seamlessly-crafted Song Of The Sea.
Following the death of his wife Bronach (Lisa Hannigan), Conor (Brendan Gleeson) is struggling to raise his two children Ben (David Rawle) and Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) on a remote island in Ireland. Saoirse is the last of the ‘selkies’, a mythical creature that takes the form of a human on land but a seal in the water. When Conor’s meddling mother (Fionnula Flanagan) takes the children to the mainland, Saoirse and Ben embark on an adventure to save the spirit world from the spell of Celtic goddess, Macha (Fionnula Flanagan).
Steeped in nostalgia, folklore and romance, Tomm Moore’s latest film is a timely reminder that some things aren’t better off left in the past. From the gorgeous and fluid 2D animation that evokes the Bluth and Murakami classics of old, Song Of The Sea celebrates the purity of hand-drawn animation together with the mythos that was once so important to the people of Ireland. The stories of selkies, sea deities and goddesses of ancient Ireland that have been passed down through generations of Irish, are now reinstilled in us through the ingenuity of Tomm Moore and William Collins’ story.
The predominant themes of loss, love and renewal in the script are supplemented by several particularly interesting metaphors; including the importance of the perpetuation of Irish language, culture and mythology as well as our pharmaceutically dependant solutions to depression and mental illness (in one scene, Ben and Saoirse are encouraged to lock their emotions in jars). While Song Of The Sea is most definitely geared towards a younger audience, Moore and Collins’ thematically diverse script has enough for an older audience to enjoy. As well as weaving the rich folklore of old throughout the narrative, Song Of The Sea is an earnest and heartfelt examination of death.
In terms of visuals, the sheer variety in the textures, shadows and shape of everything that appears on screen is captivating. The fluid and dynamic animation is offset by striking watercolour backgrounds that allow the beautifully realised hand-drawn characters to pop from the screen. The accomplished group of artists and animators at Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon (of which Moore is a co-founder) should revel in the plaudits that have rightly been levelled at them – Song Of The Sea is the embodiment of both style and substance. The voice acting is very solid, and while I found some of the characters slightly irksome, Gleeson and Flanagan in particular lend believable weight to the multiple characters.
The often haunting aquatic themed visuals are matched by a similarly haunting score from Bruno Coulais (in collaboration with Irish musicians Kíla and Lisa Hannigan). Moore has once again delivered a film that confirms both he and Cartoon Saloon as major players in animation. Song Of The Sea is a touching story of loss; the loss of innocence, the loss of a loved one, and the loss of the rich and deep culture that the film ultimately celebrates. Romantic Ireland’s not dead and gone, it’s safe and well in Kilkenny.
Song of the Sea is released on 10th July in the UK & Ireland