Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon has quickly become known for its beautiful animated films, with two Oscar nominations to date, and on the evidence of Song Of The Sea the burgeoning reputation is deserved. The work of its current most high profile director, founding partner Tomm Moore, has even been compared – somewhat prematurely, it must be said – to the films of Pixar’s power couple John Lasseter and Pete Docter, and even those of Studio Ghibli’s founders Hayo Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Song Of The Sea is only Moore’s second film, even though it’s the second to be nominated for an Academy Award in the animation category, following 2009’s The Secret Of Kells, which he co-directed with co-founder Nora Twomey. The comparisons with the elder statesmen of long-form animation are intended as compliments, of course, but they do the likes of Moore and Twomey a disservice; the Cartoon Saloon pair seem to be developing their own clear voice and artistic style just fine.
The story is a fantasy that follows a couple of children who have grown up in a lighthouse on a rocky outcrop. One of them, Saoirse, (Lucy O’Connell) is a selkie, a mythological half-seal, half-human creature often found in Celtic and Faroese folklore; an adventure begins in which the mute Saoirse and her older brother Ben (David Rawle) end up far from home and must find their way back across the mainland to the lighthouse, while avoiding the clutches of an evil witch as they move between fantastical and real worlds. It’s the kind of thing that younger kids will have no trouble following, and if the story’s perhaps a little too basic for adult viewers there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had from gazing at the visuals. I haven’t seen The Secret Of Kells, but by all accounts The Song Of The Sea is similar in that both stories rely heavily on Irish folklore and both share the same 2D drawing style. Every frame in this more recent piece – and I mean every frame – is a marvel to look at, with each one beautifully-coloured and packed with recurring patterns (mainly circles and curves, but shell patterns in particular feature throughout). It’s a rare treat to see something this good.
Directed by: Tomm Moore.
Written by: Will Collins. Based on a story by Tomm Moore.
Starring: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan, Lucy O’Connell.
Editing: Darragh Byrne, Darren T. Holmes.
Music: Kíla, Bruno Coulais
Running Time: 93 minutes.