Song of the Sea is a beautiful film. Its simple and charming character designs compliment its fluid animation to make a visually captivating motion picture. Best of all, it tells a sweet, endearing story that matches up to, if not betters its predecessor, The Secret of Kells.
Song of the Sea tells the story of a boy named Ben (David Rawle). When his mother was pregnant with his soon-to-be sister, Ben makes a promise to his mom. That promise is that he will be the best big brother ever. But tragedy strikes, and Ben’s mother dies during childbirth. Ben blames his sister Saoirse for the loss of his mother, and he grows to resent her.
Saoirse is a mute, having not uttered a single word by age six. She also holds a secret passed down from her mother. It turns out Saoirse, like her mother, is a Selkie, a mermaid-like creature that lives mostly as a human, but can also take the form of a seal. Ben’s mother often told him bedtime stories of Selkies and other such wonderful creatures, and those stories turn out to be true, but in order for this other world to stay alive, the Selkie must sing a magic song.
Ben and Saoirse’s father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) wishes for the past to remain buried, blaming the responsibilities of Selkies for the loss of his wife. When he learns his daughter has inherited her mother’s abilities, he sends both of his children to live with their grandmother to prevent history from repeating itself.
What then ensues is an adventure as sincere as it is fantastic. Ben and Saoirse must work together to find their way back home, and to prevent the magical worlds of their mother’s stories from fading away. Saoirse must find her voice, and Ben must finally live up to the promise he made to his mother.
This is a magical movie. Much like Secret of Kells, it is steeped in Irish folklore, but it is also enriched with great storytelling and striking imagination, making it feel both universal and timeless. The film evokes a similar sense of magic and wonder to that of a Miyazaki film. The animation is simpler, but it has a similar heart to those of the Studio Ghibli films.
Song of the Sea deals with strong thematics such as loss while also being perfectly accessible to children with its messages of kindness and staying true to one’s promises. While many animated features feel the need to give sly winks to the adult crowd in order to win them over to a “kids’ movie,” Song of the Sea is one of those rare animated films that – like the Ghibli features – needs only to rely on the sincerity and depth of its storytelling to captivate audiences of all ages.
Song of the Sea is a little bit sad and bitterweet. It’s also a little mystifying and bewildering. It’s heartfelt, emotional, and brimming with imagination. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a lullaby, and it’s an absolute delight.