Macha’s owls might even come here and take dad’s feelings and turn him to stone.
Nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, Song of the Sea is the story of Ben (David Rawle, Moone Boy), a young Irish lad who loses his mother the night she gives birth to baby sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell). Though he had sworn he would be his baby sister’s best friend forever, we fast forward 6 years to find the opposite is actually the case. Ben can’t stand Saoirse and can’t stand the sea which surrounds their island home either. Their father, Conor (Brendan Gleeson, Edge of Tomorrow), doesn’t make things much easier. He’s a lighthouse keeper who lost himself when he lost the love of his life, though he does care for his children. Saoirse doesn’t speak, and when her grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street) arrives to celebrate Saoirse’s 6th birthday she comments on how the way her son and grandchildren live is wrong and no way for children to be raised. Conor is initially dismissive of his mother’s words, but things taken a turn that night.
After being scared by a story, Ben told her Saoirse finds it impossible to sleep and, instead, sneaks away with their mother’s prized conch shell pipe. Gifted with an inherent ability to play the instrument, Saoirse is delighted when her song causes magic particles of light to appear. These lights slowly lead Saoirse through the house to her mother’s old room, where she discovers a fur coat that is just her size. When she puts on the coat, she’s drawn to the sea where a pod of seals wait for her. As soon as Saoirse goes underwater, fur coat and all, she transforms into a seal herself, thus revealing her secret: she is a selkie. However when her romp with the seals ends and she returns to shore, once again a human child, her grandmother finds her and is beside herself with both worries and accusations. We learn Conor has been aware of the presence of selkies both through his decision to not only send his children away to live in the city with their grandmother but also when he throws Saoirse’s coat back into the sea.
Through these developments, Ben becomes more and more upset, believing everything to be Saoirse’s fault and he is being unjustly punished. If his dad wants to send his little sister away fine but why does he have to go? This is made even more unbearable when their grandmother refuses to allow the family dog Cu to accompany them. This dog is not merely a pet but Ben’s best friend and Ben is near inconsolable without his friend. Once they arrive at their grandmother’s house, Saoirse quickly gets into trouble and the duo is sent to an early bedtime. That’s the straw which breaks the camel’s back as far as Ben is concerned. Using a crude map he drew as they were making their way to their grandmother’s house he sneaks out, determined to return home and to his best friend. Saoirse follows him and he reluctantly decides to allow her to tag along. But before the journey gets too far, Saoirse is abducted by a group of fairies. When Ben finally tracks them down it is to discover they are well-meaning creatures who only wish to have Saoirse sing her song and, thus, free them all from the curse Macha the Owl Witch (Fionnula Flanagan) has placed upon them. The bulk of the story concerns Ben’s attempts to get his sister back home and to her coat, which will allow her to finally speak and thus sing her magic song to free all of the magical folk. But going on the journey means Ben must accept some harsh truths, both about his baby sister’s true nature as well as his own behavior, culminating in the discovery of the truth behind the night Saoirse was born.
Song of the Sea (Blu-ray) boasts strong technical specs. The animation is beautiful in almost a prehistoric way, using basic shapes such as circles, squares and triangles. These shapes are kept in their primary forms with intricate detailing serving to bring out features in the locations and highlight personalities within the characters. There is a lovely juxtaposition of sweeping curves and sharp angles within this film, and the palate is very strong and well-saturated, with the oranges providing the most pleasing hues. Though the backgrounds may be a bit flat at times it’s not to the detriment of the picture overall as the effect tends to mirror a piece of artwork rather than say an unfinished sketch.
The video is a 1.85:1/1080p transfer that suits the story well. The audio, meanwhile, offers several selections. There’re DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, as well as Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, available in English and French languages. The DTS-HD Master Audio in English was the one I chose and it provided a lovely resonation as well as highlighting the subtleties of both the score and dialogue, especially when characters would sing.
The special features include a director’s commentary, which carries over into a couple of the other special features, not just the feature film itself. There is a gallery of art, as well as a gallery of trailers. There’s also a behind the scenes featurette and some animation tests included too. Rounding out the collection are DVD and UltraViolet copies of the film.
Song of the Sea on Blu-ray is easy to recommend. It’s another smash hit from the mind of Tomm Moore who wrote, produced, and directed The Secret of Kells. But Moore is not the only thing these two Celtic tales share in common. Brendan Gleeson is in both movies. Cartoon Saloon shared production duties for both. The music is by Bruno Coulais, while Ross Stewart worked for both art departments, which helps explain the similar animation techniques between the two films. Finally, both were nominated for Academy Awards for the same category, Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. With this pedigree and beautiful animation to boot it’s evident what the verdict must be.