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‘Song of the Sea’ – Film Review

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sotsposterSong of the Sea is the latest feature film by Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon. The story follows Saoirse (pr: SEAR-sha), a little girl who can change into a seal, and her older brother Ben as they race against time both to return home to their lighthouse and to save the faeries of Ireland from the owl-witch Macha (pr: MOCK-uh), who wants to turn them all to stone. The film takes inspiration from the mythological selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land.

While on the surface the story appears as a fantasy adventure of a selkie finding her song to save the faeries, really the story is about the bonds between Saoirse and her family. Saoirse’s mother was a selkie called Bronach who, to save the baby at the end of her pregnancy, disappeared into the ocean, leaving only the baby behind. Ben must accept that the tragedy was not the fault of his sister and their father, Conor, must accept that Saoirse’s fey nature is part of who she is and he can’t take that away from her, even for her protection.

The relationships within the family are all very well thought-out and explored. They are genuine and relatable. In particular the relationship of the two main characters – brother and sister – felt real; they teased, moaned about and aggravated one another but still clearly cared very much for each other as a real brother and sister would. This is turn gave us more empathy for Ben in his own personal struggle to be a better big brother and despite the darker elements of the story brought on by the faerie element, this emphasis on Saoirse and Ben’s story together kept the film light and heartwarming.

The adventure in the story caries Saoirse and Ben into the realms of many magical characters from Irish legend; the faeries in the faerie mound (complete with faerie door requesting ‘humans feac off’); The Great Seanachai (pr: SHAN-a-kee), a storyteller whose stories live in the hairs of his incredible beard; the giant Mac Lir who when turned to stone became an island in the sea; and Macha the owl witch. Tomm Moore’s distinctive illustrative animation style – each frame really is an illustration unto itself – fitted the fairytale themes of the film perfectly. The textural rendering of the colours of the characters and backgrounds made the worlds feel very real and the lighting effects used made both the world and the magic all the more wonderful.

The characters were all designed beautifully without exception, but the faeries in particular were wonderful. Some of the characters in the human world had counterparts in the faerie world where their designs complemented one another and they were voiced by the same actor. In character the faerie counterparts of these were exaggerations; taking traits from the human and emphasising them into something that the children could understand. You get a sense that Ben and Saoirse understand their human friends and family better through seeing these exaggerations and the result is very satisfying.

The owl-witch was a particular favourite character, both for her amazing design and the character development that we see in her. Early in the film she seemed like a villain that is just evil, with no motive, but in the duration of the story we learn about her past, her reasoning is revealed and she rounds out as a character wonderfully. I also appreciated how her character brought up ideas of a Miyazaki witch. The way she moved and was squashed and stretched as she felt serious emotion certainly invites the comparison.


The music of the film was central to the story as it is all about the selkie finding her song. There was an ethereal running motif that drew disparate characters and moments of the story together. The music is by the same team who worked on The Secret of Kells. It is a mixture of Bruno Coulais’ original compositions and of Irish traditional music lead by the band Kíla.

Song of the Sea is a must-see film for everyone, animation nerd and layman alike. The film appeals on many levels; the children in the row in front of me were mesmerised; and it brought a tear to my eye not only for its incredible story but also for its craftsmanship.

Song of the Sea is out in UK cinemas today. To learn more about the making of the film you can have a read of our interviews with director Tomm Moore and producer Paul Young.
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