A Young boy regrets the mistreatment of his young, mute sister when she becomes ill due to the fact that, in part, she is a creature of the fey, a race corrupted and in danger of extinction. Soon he realises that the only way to save his sister and her race is to get her back to their home island, not so far away but rife with danger and adventure of the urban and woodland variety.
Little attention is paid to animation that doesn’t originate from The States; even less so if it isn’t Japanese or produced by Aardman Animation, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the wonderful, Academy Award nominated, European collaborated animated feature The Secret of Kells (2008) went criminally under-watched.
Helmed by Tomm Moore, The Secret of Kells combined the innocent and invigorating magic of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbour Totoro) with the visual invention of Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack), and enchanted the seven or eight people who went out of their way to see it.
Well, it’s taken about seven years but Moore has managed to pull together those Irish, French and Belgian animation houses to deliver us another slice of stylistic animated magic with Song of the Sea.
Not having a fraction of the budget of the average US animated film, as with Kells, Song of the Sea compensates for low-fi animation with beautifully abstract design work that takes a child’s mind’s aesthetic and mashed it up with Celtic and folkloreish imagery, but unlike Kells this whimsy is juxtaposed with contemporary life in an attempt to create a latter day folk tale; an attempt, it must be said, that is massively successful.
Adult only in emotional content when dealing with matters of moral importance the film is otherwise aimed squarely at the young, but, as with the best of Studio Ghibli’s more elementary output, those none-cynical emotional beats and simple moral lessons propel it beyond those childish parameters to the point where it can be enjoyed by anyone of any age that has a little child-like wonder left in their hearts.
I imagine that the none-too-familiar visual aesthetic AND unusual story tone could individually be enough to put those of a less experimental cinematic bent off, but children won’t care, they won’t even notice the efforts gone to by the design teams, and nor should they because given the opportunity there’s as much magic for them to enjoy as in any classic Disney feature.
It’s just a shame, I suspect, that most won’t get the chance to see it, the unfamiliar, 99% of the time, being cast aside without a glance in favour of the tried and tested and shinier. Alas, I don’t think Minions has too much to worry about.
Hopefully finding a place in the hearts of children and animation fans alike, Song of the Sea deserves to be seen my many more people than it will ultimately reach. A Wonderfully simplistic narrative and inventive design work combine to form an original and touching contemporary folk tale that can stand next to the best of them. Catch it if at all possible.