Cartoon Saloon’s second feature and the middle installment of Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy” is a beautiful story that explores a plethora of Irish mythology including selkies, faeries and Celtic goddess, Macha. Song of the Sea follows human child, Ben who lives in a lighthouse on an isolated island with his father, Conor and younger sister, Saoirse. Still feeling the pain from his mother’s death six years prior when she died giving birth to Saoirse, Ben blames his younger sister for the tragedy and treats her badly because of it.
Marking Moore’s second directorial feature and based of a script written by Will Collins, Song of the Sea delves even further into Irish mythology than The Secret of Kells as Saoirse deals with her new identity as a selkie. As well as this, the film also explores the story of goddess Macha who has been turning faeries to stone. With Saoirse being the last of her kind, it is up to her and Ben to find her magic coat so she can sing releasing the faeries to they can travel to Tír na nÓg. There is a lot going on but not so much that elements are lost. The script does a fantastic job of tying the different plot points together.
As protagonist, Ben, David Rawle does a fantastic job of bringing the character’s conflicting feelings of pain and adventure. Ben fills his life with the stories he mother told him but he is terrified of the water and still feels the pain from his mother’s death. Only a young boy, he has a very black and white view on the world and this leads him to become stubborn in his ways. As the film unfolds, Ben begins to grow and develop a positive relationship with Saoirse. Despite being mute, Saoirse’s big vocal moment comes in the film’s beautifully climatic scene when she sings her song. Lucy O’Connell does a wonderful job thanks to her lovely singing which feels magical. Singing in both Irish and English and helping the spirits go to Tír na nÓg. Saoirse is such a lovable character throughout and when she finds her voice it is both emotional and exciting as this is where the magic comes to life.
In supporting roles, we see some of the cast take on two roles. Brendan Gleeson returns to Cartoon Saloon’s productions as father, Conor and mythological Mac Lir. As expected, he does a flawless job as the grieving father who struggles to bring up his children alone. His performance as Mac Lir is only small as we see flashbacks of him crying an ocean of tears as folklore dictates before being turned to stone. Using Gleeson for both voices is a clever choice as it allows the story to draw parallels between the magical world and reality as both characters experience grief through losing the one they loved. Fionnula Flanagan also performs dual roles as Granny and Macha. Again, there are similarities between these characters ad they are matriarchs trying to make life better for their children and grandchildren but don’t think through the consequences fully which creates the conflict in both the magical world and reality.
As expected with Cartoon Saloon films, the music plays an integral part. None more so than in this film where the plot is all about Saoirse reciting the song that will save the magical creatures. With a title like Song of the Sea, it was expected that the film was going to be full of wonderful music. Regular Cartoon Saloon collaborators Bruno Coulais and Kíla bring a world of excitement through their music, particularly with flute sounds and other woodwind instruments to reflect the sounds that would be heard through the shell. “The Song” track is among the best in any Cartoon Saloon film as it combines that magic and whimsy as Saoirse sings the song of the sea.
Overall, Song of the Sea is a film that will leave you wanting to know even more about Irish folklore and mythology. From the stunning animation to breathtaking music and the emotional storyline, this is a film that is sadly overlooked but is a major player in modern 2D animation. If The Secret of Kells helped to put Cartoon Saloon on the map then Song of the Sea ensured that it will be staying there for a long time.
What did you think of Song of the Sea? Let me know in the comments below!