Young Ben (voice of David Rawle) has had little use for the younger sister, Saoirse, whose birth took away his magical mother Bronach (voice of Lisa Hannigan). Her sixth birthday brings their father Conor's (voice of Brendan Gleeson) mother (voice of Fionnula Flanagan) to visit. She is adamant that their isolated lighthouse is no place for children and insists on bringing them back to town to raise them, separating Ben from his beloved sheepdog Cu. What Ben will discover is that his unspeaking sister is a selkie with the power to unleash faeries and other creatures enchanted by the witch Macha if she just sings the "Song of the Sea."
Cowriter (with Will Collins)/director Tomm Moore dazzled with the Celtic symbols and designs he worked into his historical animation "The Secret of Kells." This time around he turns to Irish folklore for his story, incorporating the Pictish markings of stone carvings and shapes from nature into his stunning animation design. The 2D hand drawn work resembles a mosaic not unlike the Scottish jewelry made from the dyed stems of heather (Heathergems).
When the tale begins we see the heavily pregnant Bronach gift her son with a conch shell so that he may hear the sea. As she prepares to leave the room, we see from the perspective of a child about to fall asleep, his eyelids growing ever heavier, the view more and more cut off. Mom departs for the shore and the seals that await her, just as they will for her daughter years later with the special coat she's left behind (a selkie is a sea in water, human on land). But when Saoirse's granny finds the young girl asleep by the water in the middle of the night, she only thinks in human terms. Conor takes her coat, locks it in its chest and throws it into the sea.
Moore has stated he is inspired by Hiyao Miyazaki's ability to create universal stories while embedding his own culture into his work and we can certainly see the influence here, especially in the design of the witch Macha (also voiced by Flanagan). Macha has been connected to Granny by Conor's ferryman friend, who refers to Conor's ma as 'that old witch,' but, like Granny, she's simply doing the wrong thing with the best of intentions. As the children make their way back to their island from Granny's house, they come across many mysterious creatures, initially masked by their having set out on Halloween night.
And so, as Ben comes to appreciate his sister, she must find her voice to keep the magic alive. Even Mac Lir, the God of the Sea turned to stone in grief (his face forms the side of their island), will venture forth once again. Moore finds magic in nature as well as in the mystical, creatures such as birds, a fox and the ever loyal Cu prominent in the telling of his tale. Music is a mix of traditional Irish tunes and original compositions by Bruno Coulais, with vocals by Hannigan and Lucy O'Connell. With "Song of the Sea," Moore has established himself as a true Celtic animation auteur.
Robin also gives "Song of the Sea" a B+.
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