Films routinely transport us to another world, another place; somewhere different and sometimes so enthralling that you can’t rip your eyes away. Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea, set in modern Ireland, does just that, weaving a very rich tapestry of Celtic folklore around a world we know, rendering a laudable achievement in both technical and literal storytelling just that much more fascinating.
Conor (Brendan Gleeson) shares an isolated lighthouse with his wife Bronagh and their son Ben, who is expecting a little brother or sister. A very pregnant Bronagh disappears one night after putting her son to bed, with Ben waking up to find a despondent dad and a baby girl, Saoirse. Fast-forward six years and Ben’s entrenched dislike of Saoirse has only grown, his sister yet to utter a word, his closest companion his scruffy sheepdog Cu.
Saoirse discovers a shell in Ben’s possession, left to him by their mother, which whenever she plays it produces magical properties and summons a flock of fairies. After a late-night adventure by Saoirse into the sea to explore these new-found wonders, her grandma decides the lighthouse is no safe place for children and takes them away to live with her, with Ben and Saoirse determined to remain by the ocean with their father.
Expertly integrating aspects of Irish mythology and a modern-day setting and characters, Song of the Sea is throughout its run an engaging and visually enchanting story. Screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, elements of Celtic mythology unfamiliar to the many who view the Oscar-nominated animated feature are rendered all that more engaging for both their vivid portrayal and demonstrated relevance and fusion within a current setting.
Tumbling down a rabbit hole of folklore, Ben encounters many magical, skilfully drawn creatures as he attempts to reunite himself and his sister with the ocean; both he and his father discovering the mythical secrets of their own family and home. The well-chosen style of animation is both descriptive and colourful but not overly complicated, creating images that are instantly charming as well as graphically striking when deployed for the more exuberant characters Ben meets along the way.
A memorable and endearing animated entry at this year’s festival, Song of the Sea sets itself above countless other children’s films by ably appealing to both kids and much older cinema-goers on so many wonderful levels at once.
Glen Falkenstein writes film reviews, features, commentary and covers local festivals and events. Glen lives in Sydney. He tweets @Glenfalkenstein