Song of the Sea

Year: 2014
Production Co: Backup Media
Director: Tomm Moore
Writer: Tomm Moore, Will Collins
Cast: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionulla Flanagan, Lucy O'Connell

The official synopsis of this movie; 'Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, go on an adventure to free the fairies and save the spirit world', is half the story. The other half is the charm of the animation style, the unique geometry and design of characters and locations and the paper cut-out aesthetic.

Blue collar Conor (Brendan Gleeson), his beautiful pregnant wife Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) their son Ben (David Rawle) and the family sheepdog Cú live an idyllic life in a lighthouse high on the coast somewhere in Ireland, but it's all shattered one night when Bronagh disappears, giving birth to their daughter and walking into the sea forever.

They call the child Saoirse but the remaining family are anything but happy. Conor is withdrawn, wide-eyed Saoirse eager but mute, and Ben resentful of her because all she does is remind him of the disappearance of his mother, Cú his only friend.

Saoirse is curious and loving but has strange compulsions, wanting to walk into the water like her mother and apparently being able to commune with the sea lions that live near the lighthouse. We realise there's more to her origins than anyone knows after she finds a beautiful white coat and a horn that were once her mother's. When she blows the horn tiny sprites appear around her, guiding her towards wherever they want her to go.

They lead her to the water, and in a visually lush sequence we find out she's actually a selkie, the mythical water creature from Celtic legend, diving and swimming with her other family, the coat on her little body transforming into a skin and Saoirse becoming a tiny white seal.

After Conor and Ben find her lying on the beach in the middle of the night, drenched and riddled with a cold, Conor's fussy, domineering mother, Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) insists the children be moved to the city to live with her, the lighthouse no place for them. The pliant Conor, all the fight gone from him after the loss of his wife, mutely agrees.

Having to leave his home and his beloved dog behind, Ben wants none of it, becoming even angrier and more dismissive of his sister. After the children leave, Conor takes the coat, puts it into the chest it had been hidden in since Saoirse was born, and throws it off the cliff into the ocean – revealing that he knows more about his missing wife and strange daughter than he lets on.

In the city, Ben escapes Granny's house, his sister following, to make his way back home. But when she blows the magical horn and the sprites start to show her the way, it opens the door to a grand adventure of creatures and spirits from Irish mythology including a clutch of fairies who live in the middle of a park, a witch, and the giant that's turned to stone, forming the cliff their lighthouse is built on.

As well as the animation having such a beautiful, handmade quality, it's a real pleasure to see something in this genre that isn't from the Pixar/Blue Sky/Illumination triumvirate, espousing American values and cultural norms throughout the world. No matter how much you know about the legends depicted (all I knew about Selkies came from the gorgeous Colin Farrell romance fantasy Ondine) you can see writer Tomm Moore believes in how much the characters and stories from the mythology will make an exciting piece of entertainment.

A bit like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, the story at every turn is full of cute romantic swashbuckling and the characters and set pieces are a visual treat.

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