Song of the Sea inspires imagination
John Darr | Monday, March 2, 2015
“The Secret of Kells,” an absolutely gorgeous film from up-and-coming Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, is yet to receive the following it deserves in the United States.
“Kells,” Tomm Moore’s directorial debut, is a shining triumph of form and function in film. At the heart of the film is the Book of Kells. The beautifully illustrated and ancient Irish Gospel serves as the inspiration for both the artistic style and plot of the film as the tale of a young animator is told in a world that mirrors the beautiful paintings he strives to create. The film’s well-crafted cast of nuanced characters, its seamless incorporation of the fantastically mythological and its consistently breathtaking illustrations make a clear case for “instant classic” status.
This past weekend, Tomm Moore’s second film “Song of the Sea” was shown at DPAC’s Browning Cinema. “Song of the Sea” also delves into Irish mythology for inspiration. At the heart of the plot is the Celtic myth of the Selkie, a being which can switch between human and seal forms. Using the mythological world as an anchor, “Song of the Sea” takes a remarkably unflinching look at loss, fear and wounded relationships for a children’s movie. Thankfully, the youthful energy of the film and vibrant animation prevents “Song of the Sea” from ever seeming like a slog. The film’s central characters, a single father with a son and daughter, provide a realistic portrait of a family struggling with the loss of one of its members.
It’s clear from the first minute of the film that “Song of the Sea” preserves the breathtaking animation style and quality of its predecessor. The film utilizes flat object shapes that echo the two-dimensionality of older artwork, yet incorporates immaculate shading and color-based textures that bring each scene to life. Each shot exudes attention to detail, framing the characters against their backdrops in ways that mirror the nature of each setting – the geometrical maze of the city, the twisted sprawl of the country path or the towering lookout of the lighthouse.
In addition, the film does a fantastic job of capturing children’s imaginative perspective of the world around them. It often utilizes perspective shot from the central characters’ rather low angle to accentuate the youthful grandeur of the film’s universe. In addition, the mythological figures in the film are alternately granted glowing colorful sheens and watercolor-wishy-washy-ness, allowing the viewer to grasp the vivid yet fleeting nature of the imagined. The end product is a film that makes its adult viewers feel young again, and its young viewers believe in magic.
As suggested before, however, the film’s themes and emotional intensity seem a bit mature for its audience. The father of the children at the center of “Song of the Sea” is made emotionally distant by the loss of his wife. The son blames his sister for the loss of his mother, who passed in childbirth, and the film shows the family struggle to recover from the trauma. The mythological world interacts seamlessly with the real one, as fantasy serves as an allegory for the more material events in the narrative. Though the fantasy element is used to capture the more complex emotional hardships the characters endure, “Song of the Sea” still packs a punch straight to the heart. Don’t forget to bring some tissues.
Ultimately, “Song of the Sea” is a beautifully animated film whose intended age group fails to limit its artistic quality and thematic content. It’s a must-see for any fan of animated film or cinema in general. With another brilliant and unique title under his belt, director Tomm Moore has continued making a case for himself as the next great storyteller in animated film.