A few weeks ago I headed to out with a few friends in the middle of a Sunday afternoon to catch one of the few showings that my local movie theater was airing of the animated film Song of the Sea. It’s true that I don’t usually zip to the theater for animated films unless they carry the Pixar label; I tend just wait for the DVD. But I’m so glad I made an exception for this one! Tomm Moore and the Cartoon Saloon folks have crafted a BEAUTIFUL story. (It’s necessary to convey that in all capital letters.) Visually, the film is a stunner. I had seen and enjoyed The Secret of Kells a few years ago, which is produced and directed by the same team. That movie features a monastery under attack by Vikings and a young monk determined to save the Biblical manuscript (“the book that turned darkness into light”) that so many have worked so hard on. I loved how the animation incorporated some of the designs and bright colors of ancient illuminated manuscripts. [Sidebar – that film is loosely based on the origins of the Book of Kells, which is on display at Trinity College, Dublin. Here’s a pretty nifty link where you can view each page in the book digitally.] Song of the Sea does the same thing, substituting siwrly circle and wave designs that fit the setting of an island off the coast of Ireland. The things that Moore does with colors and lines and movement are incredible, so much so that I’m just going to link to the trailer here so you can see for yourself.
It’s not only visually beautiful; the narrative matches up, too. Like The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea steps further into Irish history and myth by drawing on the ancient legend of the selkie, a seal who can shed her skin on land and become a human. (If you’ve seen the 1994 film The Secret of Roan Inish—another great movie—this might sound familiar to you.) It’s hard to describe the story without stepping into “spoiler” territory, so I’ll just say that it illustrates for the viewer both heartbreaking and strong family relationships, love and bickering between siblings, quite a few opportunities for giggles, and a tear-inducing ending. There are a few tense and scary moments involving an owl-witch, but I think most kids would love this just as much as I did. If you can still find it on a big screen near you, I heartily recommend it! Be prepared to exit the theater humming the lovely, haunting music, too. It’s a beautiful 93 minutes of storytelling.