Movie Review: Song of the Sea


A boy and his Selkie sister go on an adventure to free the spirits.


Tomm Moore, 2014

Living on an island off the Irish coast, Ben (David Rawle) struggles to connect with his sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell). His mother died when Saoirse was born, causing their father to become depressed, and Saoirse can’t talk. Ben gets his vengeance by scaring Saoirse with the stories his mother told him when he was younger, stories about the Irish Faerie world. Worried about the isolation of the children, their overbearing grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) takes them to the city to live, away from their father and Ben’s beloved dog. They run away, but the Faeries of the city uncover Saoirse’s secret: she’s a Selkie, a Faerie like her mother, and she’s dying. Ben and Saoirse navigate the world of the Faeries as they try to return home, free the Faeries from the wicked Macha (also Fionnula Flanagan), and save Saoirse’s life.


Song of the Sea is an interesting, thoughtful film. Director Tomm Moore’s animation style is very pretty, though Song of the Sea is much less stunningly intricate than his previous film, The Secret of Kells. It certainly has moments of stunning visuals, though, particularly in the places where the Faeries reside. The water themes of the film are reflected in the visuals as well. The film moves pretty slowly, so it’s nice to have the visuals to focus on as it takes its time to tell the story. There’s a dense Irish mythology to unpack here, and one can’t help but feel as though prior understanding of the stories being told might improve the experience. The combination of the extended mythology along with the film’s sad, introspective style make it a tough slog for adults, let alone kids.

The film goes into some interesting themes of loss and grief. It’s particularly poignant to see how the adults deal with their grief, and how that effects their children. Having said that, loss and grief aren’t the most positive of emotions to be underpinning and adventure story. It’s hard to follow the stories of the Faeries and the characters in them, which can make the journey confusing. That layer of confusion makes the film hard to follow, and I found myself tuning out and thinking about how pretty the water looked instead of focusing on the story more often than not. By far the strongest characters in the film are those voiced by the terrific Fionnula Flanagan. As in Secret of Kells, the villain is brilliantly drawn. Macha’s very few scenes are heavy with genuine threat with understandable motives underpinning them, and are among the only times the film feels emotionally real. The scene where Ben is forced to leave his dog and his father watches silently is also poignant. The father has far too little to do, though; there’s little sense of connection between him and the children who are so desperate to return to him. The movie is nice, but it’s got too heavy a touch.

Song of the Sea on IMDb


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