After accomplishing wonders with The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore and the people of Cartoon Saloon came back five years later with their second animated feature, Song of the Sea. Despite going under the radar in some countries, it was lauded by critics and got another Oscar nomination for best animated feature. As for my two cents, this once again trumps through visual storytelling and Gaelic culture, but it also contains more heart than that of Kells.
Unlike Kells where it took place in ancient times, this film is set in modern times. It follows a family living on the lighthouse of an island where a young boy named Ben is happy with his father Conor and mother Bronaugh. One night while Bronaugh is soon to give birth to his sister, she vanishes into the sea while the daughter Saoirse is calmly born. Although unable to speak, Saoirse soon discovers that she is the last of the selkies, which are women in Irish legends that transform from seals into people. Along with Ben, they journey off to the sea to free the ancient fairy creatures trapped in the modern world.
The most genuine aspect of Song of the Sea is the relation between Ben and Saoirse, as it feels very much like a typical albeit understandable sibling relationship. Although Ben is rather snooty to Saoirse throughout much of her life, it makes sense as he deals with the passing of his own loved one, who he felt Saoirse took her from her. However, as the film goes on and Ben and Saoirse subtly bond through their journey, not only does Ben improve as a brother, but he soon discovers why his mother left Saoirse alone to him and it really elevates the heartfelt emotional side of the movie. It's fine to be moody to your siblings as children, but you mustn't be so hard on them without thinking more about them, because there's a good chance they mean more to you than you take them granted for.
Some characters are more stubborn and torn like Ben's dad and their granny, but it's no more for the fact that they either want what's best for their kin or are still dealing with a loss that affected them emotionally. However, the stand out characters are the mythical creatures such as the fairies, the goddess Macha, and the great Seanchai. Alongside offering their own quirks and distinct personalities through their looks and history, they all serve the plot on trying to either raise or subdue their folklore into the heavens to be free from such struggles, like being stuck on Earth.
Speaking of folklore, the tales that the movie brings up are quite extraordinary. Aside from selfies, these tales contain all sorts of spirits that definitely feel as if they emerged from a children's storybook, complete with mystic and lavish Celtic designs. The way the story crafts them as entities soon to be faded unless they are restored from a lullaby in a dramatic tale of two children helps the film create a perfect contrast between reality and fantasy, not unlike Pan's Labyrinth but certainly more family friendly.
Finally, the animation and music are just sublime. Along with simple but cute character designs, the character animation is quite smooth, the background are endlessly imaginative and even symbolic at times, the effects feel like a moving painting, and the use of color blends perfectly with the environments whenever needed for the scene. While dark blue is use phenomenally for sad and emotional scenes, there is always a light to create a sense of hope and wonder in such dark times. While the score is fun and upbeat from time to time, it can also be very heartbreaking when needed, and the main song feels like a lullaby that even an adult can listen to and feel comforted just by hearing it.
If Studio Ghibli is seen as the modern legend of Japanese animation, than Cartoon Saloon has officially earned the title of the modern legend of Irish animation. By boasting creative artwork, well nuanced characters and a deep source for ancient Irish folklore, Song of the Sea is a refreshingly original and breathtaking tale just waiting to be talked about. I absolutely recommend this, not just to animation buffs and those interested in Irish culture, but even to those who once had moody but real relations with their siblings. It just might remind you of a time when you ratted on your siblings before realizing how much they really do mean to both you and the rest of your family, and this film will definitely feel reminiscent to you with its timeless appeal.