Song of the Sea

Director: Tomm Moore (2015)

Be swept away on waves of wonder by this gorgeously animated fairytale.

Moving and magical, it creates a lyrical land of enchantment and transformation, rich in celtic charm, myth and adventure.

Grief and love are buoyed by a strong script and ferried through a whirlpool of beautiful visuals on the musical currents of Irish folk band band Kila.

Central to the story are the Selkies of Irish folklore; seals who are humans on land.

They’re joined by crabs, badgers, whales and sea gods in this wonderfully realised world. Stone circles are glimpsed and electrical pylons resemble wicker men.

Lighthouse keeper Conor (Brendan Gleeson) is distraught after the loss of his wife Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan).

He struggles to care for his children Ben and Saoirse (David Rawle, Lucy O’Connell).

They’re a pair of scared, bored and vulnerable people and have a wonderfully observed relationship. They’re far from standard Hollywood cutsey kids and they’re all the more appealing for it.

So the squabbling siblings are sent to the grim city to live, leaving behind Ben’s brave and loyal sheepdog Cu.

It’s a grey polluted place where street urchins in Halloween costumes build bonfires. Rural paganism gives way to urban christianity.

When the mute Saoirse creates music on a conch shell bequeathed from their late mother, it attracts the attention of fairies.

They need the help of Saoirse to save them from the owl-witch Macha (Fionnula Flanagan) who is turning fairies to stone to prevent their feelings from hurting them.

Macha’s owls are not the tame messengers of Harry Potter’s world but malevolent dive-bombing fiends.

There is a secret key, a treasure chest and a special coat. A map leads to secret tunnels and hidden glades in forbidding woods.

Song of the Sea is far less frantic than recent movies such as the enjoyably knockabout Minions (2015). Loving craftsmanship and fine detail fill every frame.

The gorgeous artwork is so vividly textured when Ben takes shelter from a thunderstorm I worried the whole film would be washed away like the chalk pavement paintings in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964).

Influenced by the themes and tones of Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli, the parallels with their Ponyo (2008) demonstrate the universality of the story.

There are also nods to children’s classics E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Along with The Tale of the Princess KaguyaHow to Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls and the winner Big Hero 6, Song of the Sea was Oscar nominated for the best animated feature at the expense of the highly fancied and outright awesome The Lego Movie.

Song of the Sea deserves it’s place in this rarefied company and if The Lego Movie were to have ousted any of them, then Song of the Sea isn’t the weakest on the shortlist.

Following The Secret of Kells it’s the second feature in a row to be Oscar nominated from Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon. Kells was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. This time Moore is directing by himself.

With relationships based on love and bound together with loss, bad things are done with the best intentions. The power of the heartbreaking finale is based on healing not conflict.

This is very much at odds with the accepted commercial norm of cinematic storytelling and Song of the Sea is all the more rewarding for it.

This is one song you’ll want to play on repeat.

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