Song of the Sea (2015)

Directed by Tomm Moore
Written by William Collins

Director Tomm Moore wowed me with his debut animated feature The Secret of Kells back in 2009. The style of animation was massively impressive for its attention to detail and tremendous display of artistic imagination. Paired with a mythical fairy tale, the animation added an additional layer to the film that another medium could have never hoped to add. With his follow up film, Song of the Sea, Moore has managed to outdo himself by continuing down the same path. Still dealing with the supernatural, and using the same impressive animation techniques, Moore is able to achieve a cinematic fairy tale that is equal parts magic and achievement. Staying in the realm of Irish fairy tales proves a good decision.

Ben (David Rawle) is a bored little boy who lives on an island only big enough for a house and the lighthouse his father (Brendon Gleeson) tends to. His father (Brendon Gleeson), often morose from the loss of his wife Bronaugh (Lisa Hannigan), is many times busy tending to the lighthouse, leaving Ben to look after his little sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell). Ben regrets his responsibility, dismissing his sister in favor of his dog, Cu. But when the children are sent to live with their Granny, Saoirse escapes to make it back to the seaside, chased by her brother, and other mythical creatures out to stop her from using her unexpected powers to free those entrapped for many years.

That synopsis was a bit tricky to describe while avoiding too much a spoiler, and I do want to avoid revealing too much detail as this is a film that is better seen than heard about. Any review of this film should, and ought to, begin with a comment concerning the mesmerizing animation. Tomm Moore showed us what he was capable of in Kells, but manages to add to that achievement in Song of the Sea by taking his unique technique and applying it to yet another beautiful fairy tale. What sets this particular effort apart from its predecessor happens to be the story, which is stronger by measures than that features in Kells. I don’t want to sit here and compare the two films for the length of my entry, but the two are undeniably connected by both director and aesthetic beauty.

The treatment of Saoirse’s story brings a marriage of image and story that blew me away start to finish. Grounded in the reality of life secluded by the sea, of life with loss, the film adds in a dash of magic to make the experience a perfect blend of believable and unbelievable, transporting the viewer to a world of imagination, creating a journey of coming-to-age and fantasy. Moore makes a film that is both warm and fun, but manages to carry the heft of a family drama and a level of emotion not often found in children’s films. Moore has crafted a style and a story all his own, unique, and completely separate from any other animators working today.

To this point, Moore’s achievements stand for themselves. Consider me sold on the style, and immediately interested in whatever Moore decides will be his next project. After the success of The Secret of Kells, a follow up effort was doomed as a letdown, but instead Moore builds on the impact of his animation style, and, knowing its impression may be lessened in a second outing, builds strong characters and strong story. Song of the Sea is the type of film that surprises in the best possible ways, and because of this, sets itself apart from others in the modern landscape of studio animation. It’s not going to make the big bucks, and won’t be universal enough to be as iconic as something like Frozen, but Song of the Sea is one of the best animated film to be released in recent years.

***1/2 – Great

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