One of the reasons I love animation is because it can be such a richly expressive medium. Live action film is constrained in several ways: It needs to clearly convey plot and character information, it has to look reasonably realistic, and there are severe budgetary restraints on big spectacle. Animation is more flexible in those areas, particularly once you have convinced an audience to follow you into an unreal world.
Song of the Sea
is a prime example of animation’s limitless potential. The plot follows tween boy Ben (voiced by David Rawle) and his mute sister Saoirse (eventually voiced by Lucy O’Connell) who live in a lighthouse with their father Conor (Brendan Gleeson). Their mother Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) mysteriously disappeared when Saorise was born, and sense of melancholy hangs over their tiny island on the Irish coast, where they are occasionally visited by their Granny (Fionnula Flanagan).
One night, on her birthday, Saoirse finds a chest filled her late mother’s belongings and puts on a pure, white coat she finds inside. Drawn to the sea by the calls of sea lions, she is transformed into a white seal and swims joyously in the ocean. But when her concerned Granny finds her asleep on the beach, she convinces Conor to send the children to live with her in Dublin. Deprived of her connection with the sea, Saoirse sickens, and Ben must navigate the treacherous route back home through big city, open country, and the supernatural underworld that reveals itself to the siblings.
Director Tomm Moore based his sophomore film on a number of stories from Irish folklore, most prominently the myth of the selkie, a benevolent were-seal. Moore’s animation style doesn’t fit into any easily defined categories. It’s not big-eyed anime, smoothly rendered Pixar 3D, or traditional, hand-drawn, full animation. It’s flat, but he expertly combines layers that he can use to either create the illusion of foreground and background or spread out and wheel around the frame. His character design is a little reminiscent of Charles Shultz Peanuts, but is distinctly original.
Song Of The Sea
is visually lush, but it’s story is never too cluttered or busy. It doesn’t depend on manic sugar rush energy to keep its intended audience of kids attention, but rather seeks to draw them into a fascinating, unique world. This is the second of Moore’s movies that was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, and I expect we’ll be seeing his name again in that category in the future. The film is playing through Thursday at the Malco Paradiso, so if you’ve got kids who love animation, or if you’re like me and a die-hard animation fan yourself, I highly recommend you find time to see this one on the big screen.