In 2009, Irish filmmaker and illustrator Tomm Moore made a name for himself with his debut feature The Secret of Kells, which was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Five years later, he is reuniting with Kells producer Paul Young for his second animated feature by his studio, Cartoon Saloon.
Song of the Sea is about two young siblings from Ireland, Ben (David Rawle) and his mute younger sister Saoirse. Ben doesn’t particularly get along with Saoirse, as their mother Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) mysteriously disappeared the night she was born. When their grandmother uproots them one day from their father (Brendan Gleeson) and their secluded lighthouse home to live with her in the city, the children run away to get back to him. While on their journey home, Ben soon discovers that there is a deep connection between Saoirse and the mythical tales he was told by his mother before she disappeared.
Moore’s use of watercolours and simple 2D animation makes Song of the Sea really innocent and charming at the same time. It reminds audience of how effective traditional animation can be, showing that fancy CGI or 3D is not necessary to create an entertaining children’s film, while encapsulating a sense of innocence in its narrative.
Screenwriter Collins doesn’t overflow the film with unnecessary or predictable dialogue, nor complicated plot developments. In fact, the script takes a step back from the overall feature, allowing the visuals and its ethereal music to carry the audience away and it becomes a better film because of it.
While parent-child relationships are nowadays quite overused in cinema, the idea of integrating the dynamics in a sibling relationship into the story is refreshing. For two children, their trek home becomes a journey of self-discovery; Saoirse finds her true identity, as well as her voice, while for young, almost spoilt Ben, played with conviction by Rawle, it turns into one of realisation. Not only does he understand the importance of his mother’s stories, but also of his relationship with Saoirse, which will make families relate to the story even more.
Song of the Sea is a stunning, magical piece of animation and an entertaining return for Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon.
Director: Tomm Moore
Writer: Will Collins
Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle
Runtime: 93 min
Country: Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, France