LIFF28: Tomm Moore’s ‘Song of the Sea’

By December 28, 2014

Film, TV & Tech. Leeds.

[Image courtesy of IMDB]

The story of ‘Song of the Sea’ plays out sort of like an Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? of Irish folklore. Ben (David Rawle), his sister Saoirse and their father (Brendan Gleeson) live in a lighthouse on an island off the Irish coast. We learn through a flashback that Saoirse has inherited something special from their departed mother; she is a selkie, a shape-shifting seal girl whose singing has magical properties. After being sent to the city to live with their grandmother, Ben and Saoirse embark on a journey to get back to their old home.

Along the way, they meet a variety of characters from Gaelic myth and legend, and must hide from the eyes of the owl-witch Macha. Unless they can get back to the sea and recover Saoirse’s coat in time, then Macha will turn all of the magical creatures into stone.

First things first, the animation on show in ‘Song of the Sea’ is wonderful. It’s drawn in a style reminiscent of a children’s storybook, with bright colours and the appearance of being hand-painted. Each frame oozes character, and there is something magical in the swirling patterns and glowing lights that merges well with the mythic tone of the movie.

Alongside this is a very good musical score. Designed by Bruno Coulais and a folk band called ‘Kila’, the soundtrack features seldom-heard Gaelic instruments and lyrics inspired by the poetry of Yeats. It has an ethereal quality to it, a mystical ‘Irishness’ that instantly brings to mind hazy bogs and windswept shores.

There’s more than enough to keep parents entertained here as well. Beyond a great visual style and score, ‘Song of the Sea’ contains some jokes aimed squarely at the adults in the audience that (hopefully) should go over children’s heads. While they might find the plot slightly thin (the basic formula is nothing they won’t have seen before), it’s still made entertaining enough by the characters involved and the focus on little-portrayed Gaelic folklore.
In a nice touch, the villain of the film is not your generic “I’m so evil for the sake of it” cackling witch. Instead, Macha’s motivations for her actions are explored and actually are pretty justified; instead of seeking to conquer fairy-land or anything, she just wanted to stop her son’s pain. It’s pleasing to see this kind of complexity in a film ostensibly made for children, as it helps to teach them that everyone has their own story, and no matter what there is still the potential for redemption.

As far as voice acting is concerned there’s really nothing to criticise here either. David Rawle puts in a fine performance as young Ben, and Brendan Gleeson brings the right amount of melancholy stoicism to his widowed father. Indeed, there is very little about ‘Song of the Sea’ to find fault with; it’s a beautiful film that adults and children alike can enjoy.


Adam Button

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