Having now seen, and reviewed, four out of the five “Best Animated Feature Films” (barring The Boxtrolls) nominated this past season for the Academy Awards, I can safely say that the animated films are on a far superior level than the live action “Best Picture” nominations, depending, of course, on your inclinations; I have always maintained that reviewing is just about opinion and taste.
Song of the Sea was an underdog nominee in the animation category, coming in pretty much under the radar, an Irish production that hardly any one has seen, especially alongside its heavy hitting competitors like How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Big Hero 6 - which won the award. Like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – a film out of the Japanese Studio Ghibli, Song of the Sea is a folk tale made unforgettable by its spectacularly beautiful, tear inducing visuals, produced by a relatively small Irish studio named Cartoon Saloon based out of Kilkenny, Ireland and written and directed by Tomm Moore, one of the key people at the Studio.
The makers are keenly attuned to the beautiful and the weird, honing in on all that is captivating and terrifyingly melancholy in Irish folklore. The Song of the Sea encapsulates overlapping mythologies, dealing with faeries, selkies, a talking owl, and adds one very dedicated English sheepdog named Cú who pretty much steals the show.
The story itself is simple enough, Conor (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) and his lovely wife Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) live on a wild little island off the Irish coast, sharing the most tender of relationships, with each other, and their son Ben (David Rawle), who has just adopted Cú, a puppy at the time. Bronagh is expecting their second child, when she mysteriously disappears, leaving behind baby Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell), and a bewildered grief stricken Conor to look after the family.
As Ben grows up resentful of Saoirse, who six years later is still unable to speak, they are looked after by Cú’s watchful presence as both Conor and Ben try to deal with their loss. It is only when Saoirse discovers how to play her mother’s seashell horn that the magic that has always been lying under the surface of this charming film comes fully into the picture (pardon the pun). Suddenly the world of these children and their fluffy loyal dog becomes saturated with women who must leave their children to return to the water in their natural seal forms, men who are turned into stone out of grief, and talking semi-malevolent owls.
This witty, sweet, exquisite film is one that lacks just a little cohesion in its story, not that the children will mind, but it is the adults who will be left dumbstruck by its sheer beauty.