Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Song of the Sea

In a world where Disney dominates the animation scene, it’s hard for an independent animated film to make an impact. At the last Academy Awards, Disney’s Big Hero 6 won the ‘Best Animated Feature’ award – and incidentally, it’s almost guaranteed that their Inside Out will win next year. But one of the films beaten by Big Hero 6 to the award this year was Song of the Sea – and in a rare example, it’s arguably more deserving of the award than the brilliant BH6. I know, most of you are probably wondering what this film is, or where it came from. After the success of the charming The Secret of Kells that you may have seen, the largely Irish group behind it has reteamed to bring us their next film. And what a gorgeous film it is.

Directed by Tomm Moore, Song of the Sea is a beautiful little film from Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation company. Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray, the film tells the story of Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, as they go on an adventure to free trapped fairies and save the spirit world. The story is very predictable, and full of clichés from both the fairy-tale and children’s film genres. But it’s absolutely rammed with poignancy, heart and love. It’s a timeless tale with many morals, but to reveal any of the powerful messages behind the story would be to spoil the story itself – there are some unexpected moments that will bring a tear to your eye. Furthermore, there’s enough Irish folklore and mythology here to sink a battleship which is something The Secret of Kells brought us in spades, too – so for any Irish readers I may have, this stuff might mean more to you than it did to me.

But as charmingly innocent, heartfelt and sweet as the narrative was; for me, it was on the whole inconsequential. The main pull with Song of the Sea is the breathtakingly beautiful traditional animation. The wondrously vibrant and colourful style calls to mind the work of Hayao Miyazaki, a man cited by director Tomm Moore as a personal inspiration. Perfectly fitting for the film’s folklore feel, Song of the Sea feels like an illustrated children’s book coming to life in front of your very eyes. Beautifully rendered line-drawings move smoothly across what often looks like a living painting, creating a wonderfully charming aesthetic that instantly sets itself apart from Disney’s style which very seldom uses the hand-drawn animation style anymore, favouring instead CGI-filled 3D adventures. While the story occasionally loses direction temporarily, the visual beauty never ceases – meaning you cannot take your eyes off the screen, even for a second. And at a standard children’s film length of 90 minutes, any narrative misfires don’t last long. The voice acting is first-rate across the board, with Brendon Gleeson delivering a heartbreakingly understated performance as Ben and Saoirse’s father Conor, while David Rawle (of Moone Boy fame) shines as the young Ben. Lucy O’Connell makes Saoirse sound just as sweet and innocent as she looks, and Fionnula Flanagan gives a great voice to the predictable albeit relatable grandma character.

In conclusion, Song of the Sea is a delightfully charming and beautiful film that you cannot help but love. A slight although surprisingly moving narrative is complimented perfectly by some of the finest and most breath-taking imagery I’ve ever seen in an animated feature, with an incredible score from Kíla and Bruno Coulais adding even more to the magic and beauty on offer. Song of the Sea is an incredible piece of work, taking you right back to the golden age of animation when line-drawing reigned supreme. I’d take this over Frozen any day, and cannot wait to see what Moore and the Cartoon Saloon come up with next.

Song of the Sea is a simply magical work and one that you’ll never forget. 5/5.


Sam Love

Song of the Sea at CeX

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