Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Song of the Sea [2014]

MPAA (PG)  ChiTribune/LA Times (4 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune/LA Times (K. Turan) review (S. Abrams) review
Slant (C. Lund) review

Screen Comment (P-C. Ho) review coverage coverage coverage

Song of the Sea [2014] (directed and cowritten by Tomm Moore [en.wikip] [IMDb] along with Will Collins) is a lovely if often somber Irish animated feature that first caught many people's attention when it edged out The Lego Movie [2014] for a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year.  Why?  Well, stylistically IT DESERVED IT ! ;-).

The story which leans heavily on Irish Celtic mythology is beautifully portrayed with hand-drawn water-colors that often _melt_ from scene to scene.  There is thus a gentleness to the imagery that computer generated animated films presently generally don't achieve.  Indeed, the film appears (quite successfully) to adapt the animation style of Japan's famed Studio Ghibli to Irish themes.  

Yet aside from being both beautiful and "different" from standard Hollywood fare, the choice of using water color drawings as the means to tell the story is also quite fitting as it is set in "quite rainy Ireland" (interestingly, it rains quite a bit in Japan as well...) and then "by the Sea."  Further, the story is largely about a selkie a Norse/Celtic mythological creature which on land can take the form of a human but in the sea becomes a seal (One could perhaps think of a selkie as a kind of Norse/Celtic mermaid).

One could think of the film as a kind of Irish Spirited Away (orig. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) [2001] (if one knows of / likes Studio Ghibli's films).

The current story concerns Ben (voiced by David Rawle), a little boy growing-up with his parents (voiced by Brendan Gleeson and Lisa Hannigan) in a remote part of Ireland by edge of the sea.  Indeed, his father is a lighthouse operator, and there, in the lighthouse, is where they live.  At the beginning of the story, Ben's mother "is expecting" another child.   Going into labor as she finishes telling a then 3-4-5 yr old Ben a bed-time story and sensing that this child was going to be different than Ben, she apologizes and somewhat inexplicably runs off toward the sea.

Needless to say Ben didn't understand nor did his father.  Ben's father, his name is Conor, runs after his wife, and then swims after her as she enters the ocean.  But in the end, all that he recovers is a new baby, a girl, who he names Saoirse (voiced later by Lucy O'Connell).

What the heck happened?  Well Ben and his father don't understand either and it appears to both that Ben's mother / Conor's wife had at minimum died during childbirth and _perhaps_ had even tried to kill herself.

This, of course, has "some lasting effects."  So five years later, Conor's mother, Ben and Saoirse's grandmother (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) comes visiting to the their lighthouse, and she's had enough.  Conor's still not over his wife's death, little Saoirse is still not talking and 8-10 year-old Ben appears quite distraught and confused as well.   He's lost his mother, his dad is _still_ "out of it" and he's an 8-10 year-old "older brother" trying to fulfill his mother's wishes to "take care of his sister." But HE'S ONLY 8-10 YEARS OLD!  So Granny decides she's going to take her grandchildren "back to the city" where "they could have a decent life."

But when she does that ... besides (or as a result of) the trauma of taking them away from their dad (and they've already lost their mom), Saoirse starts to fall ill.  Why?  Well that's the rest of the story ;-)

It all makes for a rather "sad Irish tale" but it is beautifully drawn and can perhaps help kids who've experienced some tragedy in their lives to not feel "alone" or otherwise "different" as a result.

It's a sad but gentle story, with a pacing that again more resembles Japan's Studio Ghibli than Warner Bros. "Bugs Bunny" / "Looney Tunes" but IMHO it's CERTAINLY worth the view ;-)

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