The story is simplicity wrapped in mythmaking; a widowed lighthouse keeper (Brendan Gleeson) is raising his two children, Ben (David Rawle) and Saoirse, after his wife mysteriously vanishes one stormy night. Ben blames his little sister for this, and she has been mute since the day she was born; their relationship is built on insecurity and rejection. One night Saoirse blows into a shell bestowed upon Ben by his late mother, releasing a song that summons an inquisitive seal pod, and starts in motion a series of events that threatens to further destroy this small family unit.
It sounds like poster baiting, but this really is magical stuff. The first twenty minutes might seem unconventional, almost odd, with its whimsy and strange narrative stylings, but you soon fall under its spell.
The character detail goes a long way to ensuring this, and as our stubborn young hero, Ben is a terrific creation. Layered in the same way that the most successful animated protagonists are, he is a bullish little fighter, hiding resentment towards his sister and a deep sense of loss for his absent mother, which makes his arc so emotionally satisfying. The voice work from David Rawle has to be commended; he makes Ben come alive with his unforced, nuanced turn.
The world that the characters inhabit is a thing of wonder; swirls, abstract shapes, eccentric characters, such as The Great Seanachai, a hirsute fairy whose strands contain memories of past, present, and future, or owl witch, Macha, an emotionally bereft sorceress who conjures up comparisons with Spirited Away’s Yubaba. There is so much to take in upon first viewing, that rewatches will become essential.
As impressive as the look of Song of the Sea is, the indelible impression it leaves is an emotional one, with stories of absentee parents and the notion of “home” at the heart of some of the very best children’s fables, the finale will tug at the heartstrings of even the most stoic viewers.
The extras on offer include a passionate commentary from Moore, discussing everything from the films influences, to the design and casting process, and there’s also an all too brief behind the scenes featurette, which has some animatics and soundtrack recording sessions, and finally a wonderful little conceptual trailer. They compliment Song of the Sea nicely, but when the feature is as stunning as it is here, anything extra becomes redundant.
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Song of the Sea is out now on DVD, VOD and Blu-ray.