Song of the Sea – Review


Tom Moore has finally returned with his latest film, if you don’t know who Tom Moore is, he previously directed ‘The Secret of Kells’, which was his debut film and one of my personal favourite animation films, which wasn’t made in Japan. It was so good it even got a nomination for best animated film at the Oscars that year, losing only to ‘Up’. Now I loved his previous work, it was utterly stunning and I would highly recommend seeing it prior to this film if you are planning to see it. It won’t go for too high a price on DVD because it’s considered a bit of a cold film, but I think there is just enough in there to appease both kids and their parents. That film was a tough act to follow, nevertheless, Tom Moore using a similar story telling method to his previous film, has made his new piece of work. He unleashed it last year in the States and it played at several film festivals garnering a lot of critical support, however it’s release in the States was very limited, only playing in a few select cities for about 2 weeks, so basically hardly anyone ever saw it. Despite it’s box office failure it was nominated for best animated film at the Oscars, going up against ‘The Box Trolls’, ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’, and the previously reviewed ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ which I won’t go to far into my thoughts on in this review except a comparison and if you want my full thoughts on those films check out my previous reviews in my back catalogue.

I was very excited to go and see this film and I did go into it with an open mind being prepared to be disappointed, however I may be getting ahead of myself than normally in my reviews, but I can fortunately say I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

The plot of Song of the Sea is that Ben (played by David Rawle) loses his mother at a young age, but before she dies she gives birth to his sister Saoirse (played by Lucy O’Connell) who doesn’t speak for 6 years. They live together on a small island where there is a lighthouse with their father Conor (played by Brendan Gleeson) who is in an emotional rut after losing his wife and Ben feels resentment towards his sister. Things change however when their granny (played by Fionnula Flanagan) visits for Saoirse’s birthday and in the night Saoirse discovers that she is a Selkie, a human like creature of Irish myth and legend who can transform into a Seal. When their granny finds her washed up on the shoreline in the morning she deems that the area is too dangerous for the kids and moves them to the City. However, Ben doesn’t want to stay there, so together, they break out and try to get back to the Island. Along the way Saoirse is discovered by a group of fairies who explain that her song is the key to releasing all the spirits of those turned to stone by the witch Macha (also played by Fionnula Flanagan). The race is now on to get Saoirse back to the Island to get her Selkie coat so she can lay the spirits to rest.

Song of the Sea, like its predecessor is a well written story that is simple enough for younger audiences, but for the parents and older teens that come along to it, it’s got enough complexities to keep their attention. I thinks that’s why these films seem to be getting most of their audiences from Animation Buffs. Let’s face it, very few of you actually saw this film, at the time of writing this review it barely got any screenings, in fact I was at the only screening in Liverpool on the opening day and your area may not be playing the film at all!! Speaking of which if you’re ever at picturehouse cinema in Fact at Liverpool look for any film playing in the screen called the Box it’s great it’s a closed off and all the seats are at ground floor and are proper seats like couches it’s an excellent movie going experience. A lot of the complexity comes from Tom Moore’s clear research and understanding of Irish Myth and Legend. He put a lot of effort into this in his last film ‘The Secret of the Kells’ and he has clearly gone the extra mile with this one. I didn’t have too much of an idea about half of this stuff, but the film explains it in a way that is not incredibly insulting, but educates people unaware of the myths.

Where this film really excels is in its characters and its story, both of which are absolutely charming. Tom Moore is very good at writing and directing young characters and actors and we see this very much with Ben and Saoirse. The plus side is they are not actually clones of Brandon and Ashling from Secret of Kells, they have their own personalities and their own story arcs and I absolutely loved these characters. They are brilliant to spend time around, especially considering we are with them for most of the movie. This is aided by the brilliant acting of the young actors playing the roles, but I will get into more of that later. The brilliant writing of the young characters, however, is not at the expense of the older cast members, who are still fantastically written. One thing that has carried over from Secret of the Kells is the adult characters actions may not be necessarily right, but they are done with the best of intentions, so we are not made to feel that they are idiots or bad people, like a lesser family film would have done. That’s a breath of fresh air considering some of the things we are seeing these days. Even the villain is really good. We start out believing she is going to be an evil for the sake of being evil villain, but she gets a really layer of complexity and this was done remarkably better than I expected it to be, to the extent that by the end of the film there’s not even really much of a villain pursay, and that’s not to the film’s detriment, it’s to its benefit. Even the granny, who in another film would have been completely in the wrong, is given enough layer and depth that you can understand her point of view. The character who will be the toughest sell to the younger audience if she had been written badly was Saoirse. As I said in my plot synopsis, Saoirse can’t talk, so for most of the film we are seeing she is purely communicating though facial expressions and gestures and it is done fantastically in this film, you feel every weight of emotion that this character is delivering with little or no dialogue whatsoever.

This film is also surprisingly much more emotional than Secret of Kells, in fact it is kind of on a par with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya on a lot of it’s emotion, whilst not as dark or as serious with what that film was doing, it still finds a way to tug at your heart strings. Especially the ending which I won’t dare spoil. Most of this comes from the progression of Ben and Saoirse’s relationship which starts off with the two disliking each other, but they slowly grow closer and closer as the film goes on and I think the film’s message at the end is that things just can’t be put right with one or the other, it can only be put right if they manage to come together.

Tom Moore may not have written the screenplay, it was written by Will Collins, but he was firmly in charge of the story and the two clearly work very well off each other. They deliver a touching timeless tale that will suit any audience member and I absolutely loved the story. The characters are absolutely excellent and I was with them every step of the way. The fairies don’t get that much time, but when they are on screen they are absolutely brilliant. They are not the stereotypical fairies that you would expect, they are designed to be clever and imaginative. The design of the humans is also reflected in that as well. There has clearly been a ton of imagination put into this and I get a very real vibe of Studio Ghibli when I was watching this and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Moore said he was influenced by Studio Ghibli considering both this and The Secret of Kells really feel like they have had a heavy influence, this film more so than the first. It’s just an absolutely fun story and I wasn’t bored for one second or even noticing the time, in fact this film actually felt longer than it really was. Most of the films I have seen this year come in at 120 to 130 minutes, other films notstanding, this film only comes in at 93 minutes, but it feels longer than its running time. This is probably down to the film’s expert pacing. It was just a lovely story.

The actors, they are brilliant. David Rawle is a brilliant young actor and he pretty much delivered the performance of the film for me, if you don’t really know who he is, you might recognise him if you watched the Sky 1 documentary ‘Moone Boy’. I don’t really think his acting was brilliant in that series, but this film has completely changed my opinion. He is absolutely fantastic in this role. Lucy O”Connell plays Saoirse, but she doesn’t actually get that many lines to play Saoirse, since Saoirse doesn’t actually talk until towards the final act of the film, but when she does actually deliver lines, she is absolutely fantastic, once again, Tom Moore is excellent at directing young actors. Brendan Gleeson is the biggest name in this film and he is absolutely fantastic at his main role, I say main, because he actually also plays one of the mythical characters, Mac Lir, he is actually really good at playing that role as well, although it was hard to tell that it was him in the role since he puts on a different voice, but in his role as Connor, he is brilliant at playing a tortured soul who keeps it all to himself, but still to tries to do best by his son and daughter. Fionnula Flanagan is also fantastic in her role as both the granny and the witch Macha. It’s very easy to tell she is playing both roles, not just because she doesn’t really change her voice between characters but more the fact that the animation of the characters are very similar and they are not really designed much differently. I liked John Kenny as the Ferryman Dan, who also plays another mythical character later on in the film, very well, in fact possibly better, and I really liked Pat Short, Colm O’Snodaigh and Liam Hourican as Lug, Mossy and Spud who work off each other very well in a later scene after Saoirse is first discovered and revealed as a Selkie, and while her role may have been very brief I really liked Lisa Hannigan as Bronach and Kevin Swierszcz as a younger version of Ben. The rest of the cast are basically made up of people doing additional voices including Paul Young and even the screenplay writer Will Collins does a few additional voices. Tom Moore, once again delivers a cast made up of excellent Irish talent and the casting really adds to the authenticity of the film’s story and visuals which hiring too many named actors and having them put on irish accents would not have succeeded. Everyone delivers their natural voice brilliantly and I absolutely loved the voice direction in this film, it was absolutely brilliant, there were no faults in the cast.

Now the visuals. In a word “Wow”. This animation is excellent. The budget has clearly gone up from Secret of Kells and I really loved the animation in that film, so to out do it was frankly amazing and the art department deserve all the praise they can get. This film, like the previously reviewed Princess Kaguya and Paterma Inverted are what I would describe as visually stunning!! It’s almost entirely hand drawn and looks like moving art. Tom Moore’s film takes excellent care in the design of the world, once again I would also draw comparison to Studio Ghibli in the previous film The Secret of Kells but I also got flashbacks to the Snowman with some of the aerial shots and shots of the Irish countryside. The sequences are all brilliant, the colours and the movement are all just expert and they all flow brilliantly. To mark out a few moments would be a dis-service to it, but if I am being put on the spot, I would say Saoirse’s first transformation and swimming with the seals was excellent and some of the later aerial shots with the dog riding the sky and some of the flashbacks and scenes of the hair based mythical creature show the utter level of imagination being put into this. The film really celebrates its environment and I suspect that Tom Moore really did a lot of excellent location research when he put these areas to the art department. There is not a single moment where you are not amazed by what’s on screen. I may have made comparison to Studio Ghibli but the designs also feel very unique. I doubt you will see another film like this and it’s also amazing how the film really knows how to tell its story through the visuals itself, the actions all speak louder than words. If you fail to be impressed by the animation by the way this film looks by the end of it, you really, really need to take another view of this because frankly I find it baffling that you wouldn’t find this film absolutely stunning. It also helps that the animation is backed up by sublime cinematography

Also of note is the film’s soundtrack. It is excellent. The music score by Bruno Coulais is absolutely excellent. I would put it up there with Joe Hisaihi’s score of The Tales of the Princess Kaguya being one of the best soundtracks I have heard all year. It moulds its background songs brilliantly with some excellent Irish folk songs melded into the plot. I particularly loved the lullaby song that was composed for the film which really should have received a best original song nomination at the Oscars. I would highly recommend that once you have seen the film, go and pick up the film’s soundtrack, it’s absolutely excellent.

Song of the Sea is one amazing film. I absolutely loved it. There is never a dull moment on screen, it’s absolutely visually stunning. This film had a real danger of being style over substance but the acting talent as well as the brilliant story and direction make sure that is not the case. It’s one brilliant, brilliant film. I loved the characters, I loved the visuals, the animation was sublime ,the soundtrack is one of the best I have heard in a long while. It’s a really amazing celebration of Irish culture and Folklore. People (inclding myself) call Hayao Miyazaki is the Walt Disney of japan well after this film I say Tom Moore is the Miyazaki of Ireland because he’s bringing his imagination to life through animation and a lot of animators should watch this movie to see how it’s done. It’s one of the best films I have reviewed for the site and has already made my shortlist for best film of 2015. if your area is playing the film in any capacity I urge you to go out and see it. A film like this doesn’t come along every day!! I think this film won’t do too well at the Box Office considering it’s playing either side of The Minions and new pixar film Inside Out, which I will be reviewing in the future. I will be surprised if your area is still showing it by the time this review comes out, I suspect, like America, this film is only going to be on limited release, but for goodness sake pick this up on DVD when it comes out, better yet, if you have the ability to play Blu Ray discs then get it in that format. You will not regret the extra money!! If you see it, stick around for the credits, the credits contain a few other concept art and the story board that act as a mini making of and I would also recommend picking up the art book that goes along with the film as well.

“What are your thoughts on Song of the Sea?”

Did you manage to get round to seeing it, or are you going to comment in a few months time when it is out on DVD? When it comes out on DVD I will put it on my Twitter page mentioning it along with a link to this review so you can comment. I would love to get a debate on this one. I think this film should be really well known so I would appreciate your comments. I will accept it if anyone thinks I have gone over the top with this film or if you didn’t like it either, we accept all opinions here. If you want to submit your own reviews or content, go to our ‘how to submit’ section.

On 24 July I will be reviewing the next marvel movie “Ant Man” along with Dr Buchan and Hannah who last week did some excellent work experience for us. Their opinions will be greatly valued in my review process, mainly because they will probably be the only people seeing it who haven’t read the comics around it, but I am getting ahead of myself on that one.

Thanks for reading my review and I hope you have enjoyed it.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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