One thing the Academy Awards annually gets right is their endorsement of an adventurous (i.e. non CGI or Pixar related) animated film. Plucked from the depths of obscurity, in a category that often receives minimal attention anyway, it’s heartening to see a film such as Song of the Sea not only render a nomination, but gain traction through a marginal release in theaters nationwide.
An amorphous blend of Celtic legend, hippie wisdom, and even a few images of Jesus Christ himself, Song of the Sea is lovingly hand drawn, filled to the brim with abstract images and childish wonder as Ben (voiced by David Rawle) is thrust into a journey chasing after his younger sister Saoirse (voiced by Lucy O’Connell) within a magical netherworld.
Like all great fairy tales, we first meet Ben and his family wandering through normal life within a seaside home, far removed from the whimsical universe boiling beneath them. There is tragedy, though. Ben’s mother (voiced by Lisa Hannigan), suddenly disappears one night. Her endless, imaginative stories are all little Ben has left to remember her by. To complicate matters, the same night she vanished, she gave birth to a daughter, Ben’s sister Saoirse. Their father, Conor (voiced by the great Brendan Gleeson), becomes distraught, a shadow figure of himself constantly mourning the death of his wife.
In the hopes of providing the children with a better life, Conor allows their Grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) to scuttle them back to the city with her. Unable to cope with the endless bustle of the urban sprawl (supposedly Dublin), Ben decides to run away back home. Stealing along with him is little Saoirse, unable to speak for some reason but endowed with an almost supernatural presence when she plays the large sea shell left as a gift by their departed mother.
It’s not long in their confused sojourn back home that the children come face to face with an array of fairies, rock people, malignant owls and the great witch Macha (again voiced by Flanagan). Saoirse goes missing and it’s left to Ben to find and protect his often-pain-in-the-side little sister who certainly holds magical promise both above and below the ground.
Brought to life by the same creative team that crafted the much-lauded The Secret of the Kells (2009), Will Collins and Tomm Moore imbue Song of the Sea with so much heart, wit and imagination it bursts at the seams of every image. The visage of a dark sky full of rolling, thunderous clouds. The almost heartbreaking images of emotions being sucked out of one’s face and trapped in a witch’s glass bottle. The long beard strands of a renowned underwater fairy endlessly wrapping around a room with a hidden story embedded in each one. They all merge into a fascinating, moving children’s tale that, like the best animated films, speak of universal truths and our incessant desires of telling a unique bedtime story.
Whether Song of the Sea takes home an Oscar or not is beside the point. To be nominated is a blessing, yes. To reach the widest possible audience and give children a dizzying, virtually ‘retro’ peek at hand drawn animation is the real blessing here.
The film opens at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano on Friday, February 13.