When it comes to animation in the cinematic universe, you know that a film is going to be pretty special if it isn’t part of the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks/Aardman/Studio Ghibli juggernaut train and still manages to pick up wide, mainstream distribution. In the case of Song Of The Sea, it’s already huge reputation proceeded it as it finally made its way to British shores last Friday. From the creative minds at Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, the film was nominated for the Best Animated Feature statuette at the 87th Academy Awards, eventually losing out to Big Hero 6 but gaining much media attention and kudos along the way. After what feels like an eternity, it was finally time for British audiences to be able to see it, and I went in with high expectations and zero preconceptions with just the image of the poster as my only clue.
Song Of The Sea is a magical adventure that takes the audience on a whirlwind journey through tales of Irish folklore whilst nailing the now integral familial ties and character empathy that is needed in any successful animation these days. The film tells the story of Ben (David Rawle) and his little sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell), two young Irish siblings who go on an adventure to discover supernatural truths about themselves and their long deceased mother, combining with faeries, seals and other assorted magical beings along the way. First and foremost it must be said that the film is absolutely stunning on a visual level, arguably one of the most aesthetically mesmerising and hypnotic animated pictures I have ever seen. The sheer amount of detail in each frame is at times quite overwhelming, but in the best, most immersive way possible. As a child who grew up in the final days of Disney’s hand drawn animation, there is undoubtedly a special place in my heart for films that do not look like video games, but Song Of The Sea takes this to another level, with any random frame in the picture being beautiful enough to hang as art on your wall. This style of animation also adds a timeless quality to the film, and this is further evoked by the traditional, folklore inspired narrative that, whilst perhaps not entirely matching the visuals in terms of quality, is nonetheless engaging and unusual, covering a range of themes and effortlessly appealing to both young and old audiences with a delicate and expertly walked fine line of childhood magic and wonder mixed with adult grief and life struggle. Though much of the narrative is played out in a whimsical, irreverent manner that fills the screen with visual wonder and excitement, there are a handful of more sombre, melancholy passages that work to ground the picture and help to deliver a much more human, emotional and empathetic side to the audience that whilst admittedly relying on some of the generic ‘dead parent’ tropes, never feel heavy handed or manipulative as so many lesser children’s films do. Ultimately, though the visual wonder is what continually amazes the eye, the narrative beneath the aesthetic beauty is one filled with history, discovery, family drama and emotional baggage that at the very least provides a credible and engaging accompanying plot to the sheer force of the visual feast on offer.
What is quite striking about Song Of The Sea is that it isn’t until one reflects upon it that they realise there is very little dialogue in the entire film. Certainly, David Rawle and Lucy O’Connell as Ben and Saoirse being their characters to life at integral moments, but on the whole the filmmakers have chosen to let the visuals do the majority of the talking. Rawle as emotionally abrasive older brother Ben acts somewhat as an audience surrogate within the narrative, guiding us through the plot and being the foil for explanation when it is needed, but for the much part you are encouraged to simply sit back and allow the visual storytelling to consume you. The two notable adult characters in the film, the children’s father and grandmother, are voiced by Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan respectively, and whilst neither voice actor are required to provide more than supporting material, they give enthusiastic life to their characters and help to provide further depth to the story.
Overall, Song Of The Sea is a gem of a film that really has to be seen to be truly understood. The stunning visuals of the picture provided me with one of the most immersive film experiences I can remember, and the timeless quality that is possesses will stand it in brilliant stead of becoming an all time favourite from generation to generation. A work a care and beauty that makes so many of today’s mega Studio offerings feel cheap, contrived and hollow, Song Of The Sea is really something special. Take my advice and watch it in the highest quality, on the largest screen possible, you will not regret it.