Song of the Sea is the story of Ben and his little sister, Saoirse, who live in a lighthouse with their father and Ben’s dog, Cú. Saoirse’s mother mysteriously disappears into the sea while giving birth to Saoirse, leaving her heartbroken husband behind with Ben who somewhat blames Saoirse for mom’s disappearance. Six years later, Dad is still distraught over his wife’s disappearance, and Saoirse hasn’t uttered a single word. On Saoirse’s sixth birthday, she discovers a nautilus shell flute mom had given Ben before she left. When Saoirse blows into the flute, magical sparkling creatures lead Saoirse to her mom’s white cloak. Saoirse dons the cloak and is led into the sea where she turns into a white seal. It turns out that Saoirse is the last of the selkies, mystical beings who can transform into a seal in the water and become human on land.
After Saoirse’s family finds her later washed up on shore in her human form, dad and grandma, who was visiting for Saoirse’s birthday, think it would be best if Ben and Saoirse live in the safety of the city instead of near the dangerous sea. Ben, having had to leave behind his beloved dog Cú, plots to escape grandma and the city, and reunite with his dad and Cú at the lighthouse while reluctantly bringing Saoirse in tow. Ben and Saoirse’s journey home takes them both through the mystical Celtic realm filled with fairies, an owl witch named Macha, and even a legendary sea god. Ben learns of Saoirse’s destiny as the last of the selkies as well as being a true big brother. Saoirse finds her voice, and the family learns to embrace each other again.
Song of the Sea is the second Oscar nomination for Irish filmmaker, Tomm Moore, and the Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, which produced the 2009 Oscar nominated The Secret of Kells. The animation style is reminiscent of a children’s watercolor book with a 2D look similar to Samurai Jack and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, where there are no outlines for the characters or objects. Song of the Sea differs from those TV series by having much more detailed backgrounds, however. The movie was completely hand drawn and animated as well, which just adds to the richness. The circular geometry used throughout the film reflects the Celtic nature of the movie’s legends. Even the soundtrack utilizes several traditional Gaelic instrumentation that helps immerse the entire movie in Ireland. It looks like an animated intricate Celtic tapestry come to life.
The story is simple, sweet, and heart wrenching at times but timeless. Even some of the scarier moments are softened by the background characters in the movie yelling out words of encouragement to the kids, just as the audience would to the screen. There’s an air of mystery in the plot which mesmerizes even the most adult audience as well.
Having now watched all the animated movies nominated this year for an Academy Award, I can definitely say that Song of the Sea should have won for Best Animated Feature. It may not have gimmicky celebrity voice over casting, 3D CGI animation, modern day jokes, potty humor, or hidden Easter eggs, but it does have everything that counts for a truly wondrous animated movie.