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New Release Review - SONG OF THE SEA

A young girl discovers she belongs to a race of sea fairies.



Directed by: Tomm Moore

Starring: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnula Flanagan




"This is a great treatment of antique Irish myths and the modern heart that still carries their traces. Its virtues are bound to go over more than a few viewers’ heads but the film is well-written, directed and beautifully designed, so as to have some real magic to it."


I sometimes wonder if the fact that I love the experience of going to the cinema doesn’t impinge on the impartiality of my reviews, that maybe I’m too kind because I’m enjoying being at the movies. As such, I went into Song of the Sea with my heart hardened, prepared to excoriate if necessary.  Unfortunately for my tough-guy act, this was an unexpectedly charming and delightful animated kid’s film.
The story concerns a young boy named Ben, his big, warm-hearted but sad father Conor, his unspeaking little sister Saoirse and the legacy of their mother Brona, who mysteriously disappeared the night of Saoirse’s birth. Living by the sea (Conor is a lighthouse keeper) Ben endlessly revisits and ruminates on the Irish folklore his mother used to share with him as a very young child, and he resents his little sister as only a big brother can. All that’s left of their absent mother is a large seashell fashioned into something like a musical instrument. The night before Hallowe’en, Saoirse decides to take the seashell for a spin and we learn that she, like he mother before her, is a Selkie, a sea-faery.
An Irish production, with an Irish cast and a story that draws on Celtic mythology, on paper Song of the Sea is enough to make an Irish critic wince with trepidation. The possibility of tourist-board paddywhackery and pandering to foreign audiences is very real, and in the early stages of the movie, that’s where things seem to be going: it opens with a WB Yeats quote, and seems like a studied exercise in affected Irishness. Fortunately, the script, by William Collins, based on a story by director Tom Moore, doesn’t pander to its audience or beat us over the head. It sets up the world of the film gradually and patiently, keeping some surprises up its sleeves and slowly drawing us into the unseen overlap between the day-to-day world and the mythical undercurrents that inform it.
The design of the film is beautiful and – as ever - a good reason to see this on a big screen. Over the film’s modest runtime, the art design becomes mesmerising. It really is like a children’s book that moves, or a fairy tale graphic novel come to animate life.
Compared to Despicable Me, or Big Hero 6, this film may seem slow, and there is a feeling that this is an adult's idea of what a kid’s film should be, but I suspect this is a family friendly cult classic for years to come. The relationships between the characters are simple but convincing, and while for the first half hour or so, the story relies on visual poetry rather than plot to hold our attention (Your Mileage May Vary, on this score), Song of the Sea gradually becomes more compelling, especially as the narrative focus shifts away from Ben towards his sister, who is the heart of the film.
This is a great treatment of antique Irish myths and the modern heart that still carries their traces. Its virtues are bound to go over more than a few viewers’ heads but the film is well-written, directed and beautifully designed, so as to have some real magic to it.




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