SONG OF THE SEA Review (Ireland/Denmark/Belgium/Luxembourg/France/PG/93mins)
Directed by Tomm Moore. Starring Brendan Gleeson, David Rawle, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnuala Flanagan, Lucy O’Connell, Jon Kenny, Pat Shortt, Colm O’Snodaigh, Liam Hourican, Kevin Swierszcz, Will Collins.

THE PLOT: Young Ben (voiced by Rawle) lives on a remote island off the coast of Ireland with his great, big, strong dad (Gleeson) and his annoying, irritating little baby sister, Saoirse (O’Connnell). She can’t speak; Ben reckons he can’t be heard. The main reason why Ben thinks his little sister is annoying and irritating though – other than the simple fact that she’s a girl – is that he blames her somewhat for the disappearance of their mother shortly after Saoirse’s birth. When Saoirse turns six, she finds a shell horn belonging to her mother, and it leads her a white fur coat, and into the sea – where, miraculously, the little girl turns into a seal. When the two siblings are sent to live with their grumpy grandmother (Flanagan) in the city, the sea keeps calling them, with a group of Faeries informing Ben that he must find that white fur coat again, so that his sister can sing the Song Of The Sea, and finally lead them home. And so the two young kids head out on an epic search…

THE VERDICT: As with Cartoon Saloon’s debut feature, 2009’s THE SECRET OF KELLS, there’s no denying the beauty of the animation in SONG OF THE SEA. And as we got into the Celtic mystic once again, there’s no denying the script lacks that certain kick. With a gameplan that’s far more Mayazaki than Mickey Mouse (MY NEIGHBOUR TORTORO, along with Mike Newell’s Into The West, were major influences here), this little Irish animation studio upstart is clearly happy taking the long road to success. It may mean that the profit margin on THE SECRET OF KELLS didn’t begin to trickle in until six years after its initial release, but for these Kilkenny cats, it would seem quality beats Quick Ratio casino cash-ins every time.
It’s an admirable approach, but it’s clear that Cartoon Saloon still have some way to go. The glowing reviews (especially abroad) and golden rosettes (the Oscar nomination, the recent IFTA for Best Irish Feature) help the brand, as does the meticulous, glorious 2D animation, but, as with THE SECRET OF KELLS, the script here would make John Lasseter punch a limited edition Plush Buzz Lightyear Pez Dispenser. That potent mix of slapstick and soppiness that Pixar (and, lately, the Lasseter-led Disney) manage so well – the quick-fire wit, the winks to the audience, the punch to the gut – are largely absent here, and you end up with a film that parents would like their children to love. Rather than a film that children would simply love. Less Klimt, more Krusty The Klown. Still, there’s a good message here – never trust your granny. Ever.

Review by Paul Byrne

Watch the Song Of The Sea Trailer 

Song of the Sea
Review by Paul Byrne
  • filmbuff2011

    Song Of The Sea is the second animated feature film from Kilkenny-based production company Cartoon Saloon. Like The Secret Of Kells, it was nominated for an Oscar (apparently just getting ahead of The Lego Movie). Why it’s taken this long for this uniquely Irish take on myths and legends to reach its own shores is a mystery. But it’s definitely been worth the wait. On a Donegal island, Ben (David Rawle) lives with his father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and younger sister Saoirse in a lighthouse. She’s a mute who he looks down on and makes fun of. However, he’s tasked with protecting her. There’s something different about Saoirse – she feels a great affinity to the sea and the friendly seals who swim nearby. Like her late mother before her, she’s a selkie, a human who can change into a seal and vice versa. While staying with their Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) in Dublin, Ben and Saoirse are whisked away into another world full of fairies, spirits, selkies and hostile owls. Saoirse has a destiny to fulfil – to save the spirit world and only she is the key to it all… Make no mistake, this is a gorgeously designed and stunningly animated film that sets it apart from the usual animated fare, which is mostly aimed at children. This is one film that can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike, especially here at home. If anything, it feels closer in spirit to Japan’s Studio Ghibli, with its large, oval-eyed characters and magical, otherworldly characters. Director Tomm Moore conjures up some memorable sequences, particularly towards the end which is unlike anything else we’ve seen this year. The story is based on several aspects of Moore’s own childhood in the 1980s, so it has a personal touch. What really impresses though is the fusion of myths and legends with a lovely story in an accessible way for international audiences, though Irish audiences will undoubtedly find it an even more enriching experience. It’s a visual feast, but one grounded in a solid story that makes it a wonderful, entertaining adventure. Thankfully, it’s not in 3D – that would just cheapen it. With some fine live action Irish films already out this year like Glassland and Patrick’s Day, Song Of The Sea could just be the Irish film of the year. It’s proof enough that we punch above our weight when it comes to animation, which is a growing industry here. We can indeed stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Studio Ghibli and Pixar, who would no doubt look admirably on this imaginative take on Irish folklore. ****