Yeats is not often quoted in animated features, but his poem “The Stolen Child”
is very definitely a source of inspiration for Tomm Moore’s latest film. If
that sounds too serious for your viewing pleasure, take comfort from the
presence of a big lovable fur ball of a dog named Cú—that being the Gaelic word
for dog. There will also be selkies and assorted faery folk. Yes indeed, you
can expect a generous helping of Celtic lore in Moore’s truly lovely Song of the Sea (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Ben’s mother Bronagh died in child birth with his little sister Saoirse, but
there is more to the story than he realizes. The truth is Bronagh was a selkie,
a mythical shape-shifting seal woman, who can live on dry land for years, must
eventually return to the sea. Saoirse is her mother’s daughter, who was born
with a selkie coat to wear as she transforms, but her lighthouse keeper father
keeps it hidden under lock-and-key for fear of losing her too.
is supposed to look after his sister, but he often loses patience with the
young girl. She has yet to speak a word, but she can make music worthy of Steve Turre with the shell Ben keeps as a remembrance of their mother. For the most
part, the outdoorsy island life suits both children, but their bossy
grandmother insists on relocating them to Dublin. Unfortunately, taking Saoirse
that far from the water is not a good idea, but the faithful Cú will help guide
them home. Along the way, they will meet several Fae beings who have a personal
stake in restoring the young selkie’s powers.
Song of the Sea pretty much has it
all when it comes to animated movies. Moore taps into some deep Celtic legend
to tell a mature, psychologically complex coming-of-age story. Plus, Cú is just
huggably adorable. The hand drawn animation is also a thing of beauty. While
Moore’s figures are deliberately simple and anime-esque (in a big-eyed kind of
way), his landscapes and fantasyscapes are breathtakingly lush. He also
integrates music into the film in a culturally organic manner that powerfully
underscores the on-screen mood and sometimes helps drive the narrative.
Saoirse hardly makes a peep in Song,
but her character development arc packs quite an emotional wallop. Viewers older
than your correspondent (by decades) were fighting off the sniffles at the
conclusion of the screening we attended. Even if you have a heart of stone, you
will completely invest in her story, in spite of yourself. Older boys will also
readily identify with Ben, who has navigated much of life’s confusions largely
on his own. Together, they will negotiate several highly fantastical turn of
events, but it is their sibling relationship that anchors the film.
year, GKIDS has two legitimate Oscar contenders in Song and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, both of which conclusively demonstrate animation can be a
legit form of art. Each is also rather tragic, but in a wholly satisfying sort
of way. Yet, Song is still safely
kid-friendly (thanks again to Cú). Frankly, they ought to be in contention for best
picture overall, but GKIDS will probably have to settle for an animation
nomination for one or the other. Highly recommended, Song of the Sea opens this Friday (12/19) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Animated films, GKIDS, Irish Cinema, Selkies, Tomm Moore