Directed and Co-Produced by Tomm Moore
A 10-year-old Irish boy named Ben (voiced by David Rawle) living in a lighthouse with his mute sister Saoirse and father Conor (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) and their Old English Sheepdog Cú learns that his sister is a selkie who must free faerie creatures from the Celtic goddess Macha (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan).
This is a beautiful and layered Irish animated feature film from a studio called Cartoon Saloon who had previously worked on The Secret of Kells (2009). This movie is nothing like the current crop of Disney features in both appearance and production. It is a hand drawn feature with no peppy songs or softening of the tone.
Saoirse looks up to her brother, but Ben blames her for the death of their mother Bronagh (voiced by Lisa Hannigan) who disappeared late one night and presumably died after giving birth to Saoirse. He does not necessarily hate her but she is a constant reminder that his mother is gone.
After being sent to live with their grandmother (also voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) what starts out as a simple trip home by a runaway boy becomes a journey through a fantasy world to save his sister. You can see in the movie allegories between what is happening in the Ben’s life emotionally and what is happening in the fantasy world. This is as much about Ben saving his sister as it is about Ben maturing and learning to deal with what happened to his mother.
This movie is Irish to the core. It is deeply rooted in Irish mythology and nothing about that is watered down for easier consumption by the masses. It is a very “take it or leave it” attitude there and it makes for a stronger film. You are immersed in an Irish fantasy with the real world slowly fading into the background during Ben’s journey.
The goddess Macha is a clear parallel to Granny. Both care for their children and wish to take their pain away in ways that in the end do not actually help but make things worse. Maccha by removing feelings and Granny by taking the kids away to the city. Macha’s son Mac Lir (also voiced by Brendan Gleeson), whom she turned in to an island not far from the lighthouse, is the equivalent of the father Conor. Both are suffering unimaginably from a broken heart. Cú the sheepdog can even be seen as a parallel to the swift and loyal pets of Mac Lir.
You feel the pain of the characters. Conor is a lost soul without his wife and Ben and Saoirse are both missing something without their mother present. They never got the closure they needed to move on.
Music is an important part of any film. The music here film was composed by Bruno Coulais along with an Irish group called Kíla. These are not people that would create Hollywood-ized Irish folk music.
Song of the Sea is a fantastic movie that does not get the love or attention that it should. It is better than anything Disney has put out recently. It contains none of the homogenization that would occur under an American production. And it is much more original than any Pixar film. It is beautiful to look at and beautiful to listen to. If you have not seen it, expand your horizons and watch it.