Fresh off his striking debut feature from 2009, The Secret of Kelles, animation director Tomm Moore waited a few years before working on his next feature (despite releasing a demo of this project back in 2010), but the finished film ultimately proves to be worth the wait. A surprise contender at this years Oscar’s, Song of the Sea is another home run for this director, and solidifies Tomm Moore as a force to be reckoned with in the world of modern animated cinema. Given the impending absence of Studio Ghibli, we may have found a suitable replacement in the creation of stellar 2D animated features, at least for the time being.
The story contains many hallmarks of a classic era Walt Disney fable, but adapts them into a completely original setting and therefore breathes fresh life into these tropes. It’s based around the ancient Celtic myth of the Selkie (a mythological creature from Irish folklore), and concerns a brother and sister named Ben and Saoirse, who live in a lighthouse by the sea with their father, Conor. The father struggles to hold together their broken family after the loss of the mother several years earlier, around the time Saoirse was born, and Ben grows to resent Saoirse because of it. One night Saoirse, after finding a shiny, mystical coat that belonged to her mother, is drawn to the ocean, and soon realizes that she is a Selkie, as was her mother. This then sets into a motion a series of experiences and adventures for the young protagonists, as they encounter all manner of bizarre characters and settings along the way.
Like its predecessor The Secret of Kelles, this film is seethed in Irish iconography and is told through absolutely gorgeous visuals, containing the same rigid, flat animation style of Kells while still feeling unique and distinctive all on its own. Such beautiful and innovative visual stylization would be enough to keep the film afloat for one viewing, but luckily the film is anchored by a strong and well earned emotional core. It’s the sort of old fashioned, mature storytelling that made films like The Secret of Nimh so memorable for those seeing them the first time back in the 80’s, and still re-watchable to this day – or at least to the extent of getting a live action remake *collective groan*.
As if there was any more reason for 2014 to be declared the greatest single year for animation since at least 2009 (coincidentally the last year director Tomm Moore released a film), Song of the Sea is just another reason to celebrate the state of animation in modern cinema. In the face of endless franchises and seemingly limited amounts of originality in mainstream cinematic culture, original creative filmmaking can still flourish and this film (along with several other animated films released in 2014) is proof of that. Hopefully this trend can continue into 2015, and well beyond it as well.