PG – 93mins – 2014
THE OTHER CROWD
Every bit as heartfelt and evocative as his striking debut, The Secret of Kells (2009), director Tomm Moore returns with another spellbinding animated feature richly steeped in Irish folklore and legend.
Young Ben (David Rawle) blames his mute little sister, Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell), for the disappearance of their mother six years ago, following Saoirse’s birth. But when Saoirse discovers a mysterious coat which pulls her into the sea to swim with the seals, their Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) demands the children leave their island home and live with her in the city. But separated from the coat, Saoirse becomes sick, and it is up to the siblings to band together and journey across Ireland to return home and reunite Saoirse with her white seal-skin coat and find her voice.
Like her mother, Saoirse is a Selkie; a seal-child. The last of her kind, in fact, and her enchanting song of the sea can release all magical brethren from their earthly binds and return them to their spiritual home. It is hard to call this supernatural revelation a twist because it is revealed so early on (and mentioned on the back of the DVD), but Song of the Sea doesn’t need to trick us to treat us, and the effortless story is still brimming with surprises as the children’s quest leads to encounters with will o’ the wisps, lyrical faeries, over-protective witches, armies of owls and heartbroken giants – many of which cleverly parallel Ben and Saoirse’s situation.
Like the story, the animation is deceptively simple. The blocky, two-dimensional style is actually stunning beautiful, with shadows, texture and depth bringing life to the line drawings. The landscapes are almost painterly in their depiction, with brushstrokes still evident and the use of patterns evoking a tapestry-like quality.
The choice of colours is also rich and evocative, with drab normality doused in lifeless grey, while the sea is painted in sparkling aquatic blues and greens. The cosy comfort of home is warm with deep oranges and many of the fantastical elements are highlighted with a dazzling, otherworldly white.
The visuals are complemented by a soft, almost mournful score by Bruno Coulais and Kila which makes heavy use of folk strings to create a sweet, poetic lullaby with a Gaelic lilt. When this can’t be heard, wind, waves and the far-off caw of a seagull are almost ever-present aids to the ambience.
There were scenes with strong comparisons to genre giants Studio Ghibli, which is a huge compliment to Moore’s fledging production company Cartoon Saloon. Macha the Owl Witch greatly reminded me of a gestalt approximation of the Witch of the Waste and the 90year-old Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), while sheepdog Cu’s twilight flight back to the lighthouse with Ben and Saoirse on his back had echoes of the iconic cat bus from My Neighbour Totoro (1989).
In a CR@B Shell: Whimsical and wondrous, director Tomm has once Moore delivered a bold, touching, inventive and attractive animation imbued with family values and a strong moral underpinning. I heartily recommend you take a dip into this enchanting Sea.