Tomm Moore is an Irish animator and co-founder of the Cartoon Saloon, a small animation studio based in Kilkenny which is currently creating some of the most stunning children’s animated movies to rival Disney and Pixar.
Moore burst on to the scene when his first feature The Secret of Kells was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2010 and his follow up to that lovely film, Song of the Sea was also nominated in 2015.
Like its predecessor, Song of the Sea is rooted in Celtic folklore but remains a universal experience dealing as it does with childhood loss and a need to make sense of your place in the world.
The film opens with a quote from WB Yeats poem The Stolen Child
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Four year old Ben (David Rawle) awaits the birth of his baby sister with his mother and father, the lighthouse keeper (Brendan Gleeson). His mother tucks him in to bed, but when he wakes the next day, he has a new sister, Saoirse, and his mother is gone.
It turns out that Ben and Saoirse’s mother is a selkie – a seal person who belongs to the see and only has a finite time living on the land. As Saoirse grows up, she remains mute and after their grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) brings them to live in Dublin with her, it becomes clear that she has inherited her mother’s gift and must return to the lighthouse to find her mother’s seal skin and restore herself back to health.
What follows is a cross country adventure, recognisable from many children’s films, featuring giants and faeries, a lost mother and grieving father and two resourceful children pitted against the owl-witch Macha. What elevates Song of the Sea is that Moore uses this traditional Irish myth to explore issues of grief. Through some subtle visual hints, the children’s journey home becomes a metaphor for their grieving process and like Pixar’s Up, the parallels create a rich and moving cinematic experience.
The magical narrative is vividly portrayed in some truly beautiful hand-drawn animation. It has echoes of the best work from Studio Ghibli, but Tomm Moore creates a visual world that is all his own – vivid, imaginative and utterly unique. He and his team use echoes of shapes and patterns to bring out the links between the real world and the mythical world and the soundtrack by Bruno Coulais, featuring Irish folk band Kíla also fuses the modern with the mythic to great effect.
There may be a melancholy to Song of the Sea, but it is a truly uplifting cinematic experience. The narrative, animation and music all combine to create a lyrical and unforgettable tale. Not only is it beautiful to look at, this is a film that truly reminds you of what it is to be a child.
It is a film with a big heart and a deep soul – a moving work on the nature of love and loss. Song of the Sea will undoubtedly become a classic of animated cinema. You don’t have to be a child to watch it, but it will remind you of the wonder and joy of childhood and that is a special thing.
My son, remember me in your stories and in your songs. Know that I will always love you, always.