“The world’s more full of weeping that you can understand,” starts Song of the Sea, a stark contrast from the “everything is awesome” mantra that dominated animation last year. Song of the Sea is a film seeped in sadness, loss and regret, yet still is able to maintain a sense of overwhelming beauty and joy that few films are able to convey. Song of the Sea is a marvel, one that is both technically and emotionally overwhelming in its power.
Song of the Sea is deeply seeded in Celtic folklore, in a way that feels much more balanced than it was in director Tomm Moore’s previous film The Secret of Kells. Song of the Sea is based in the myth of the selkie, where a person can become a seal in the water, but can then become human on land.
It begins with pain, as the young Ben watches his pregnant mother disappear as he falls asleep, only to wake up and find her gone, but with his new baby sister Saoirse remaining instead. Years later, the pain of losing his wife has left father Conor in a constant malaise and depression, as he stumbles around their lighthouse house, unsure how to go about his life. Meanwhile, even though Ben told his mother he would be the best big brother, he has neglected his duties, becoming constantly frustrated with his sister who still hasn’t talked after six years.
When Saoirse plays an ancient shell given to her brother my their mother, she seems to unleash magic into their world, leading her to the ocean filled with smiling seals and to her mother’s glowing coat. As she puts the coat on and enters the water, she turns into a seal, showing herself to be a selkie. When her grandmother finds Saoirse on the beach at night, however, she moves Ben and Saoirse from their father’s house and into the city. The two attempt a journey that makes them face the magic that the world is filled with and forces both of them to confront their fears that they’ve avoided until now.
Moore’s style of animation makes every single frame absolutely gorgeous to a level where Song of the Sea might be one of the most beautiful hand-drawn animated films of all time. Moore creates so many levels to every shot, it would be worth it to pause every few seconds just to take in everything he’s doing within the screen.
While the story can often be convoluted and strange, Song of the Sea also goes quite deep with its messages of accepting the pain with the good moments, the effect of death on family and community and the importance of family. It’s a film that is not only visually rich, but gets into some fascinating elements rarely seen in animated films.
Everything may not be awesome in this world, but that’s what makes it wonderful. Song of the Sea is an incredible story of taking the best and worst life has with some of the most breathtaking animation ever created. It’s truly one of the most fascinating animated films to come out in years.