songofsea

25 Animated Films You MUST See #17: Song of The Sea

Everyone.

It’s been awhile.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m slowly getting accustomed to life in the outside world. Aside from going to my 9-5 job, I’d been tucked away in a corner of my apartment, furiously pounding out pages of my thesis project for grad school. My thesis was a hefty section of my novel, 120 pages to be exact, and now that the sheets have been bound, the section turned in, and my degree received, I can slowly begin to acclimate myself to normalcy. Most of this has involved slowly exposing myself to sunlight, understanding that the food pyramid is not just a giant slice of Domino’s pizza, and getting all the sleep.

But I digress.

As my time in grad school came to an end, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future, my own specifically — where would I go, what would I do, what would things look like for me a few years down the road?

But I also began to think about the future of the things I loved. With E3 in full swing, I wondered where video games were headed. What new, immersive technology would pop up, which franchises would live on, and OHMYGOD THERE’S A NEW STARFOX GAME.

Needless to say, I’ll be updating you all soon (if I can contain my excitement until then).

But I also had some similar thoughts about the future of animation. As most of you have noticed, a large portion of this list are films that were made more than five years ago, some even older still. There are one or two newer films I’ve considered putting on this list, but it’s obvious that the pool of animated films is definitely getting thinner. With Studio Ghibli’s (potentially) last film, “When Marnie Was There” in theaters and more films going the way of Pixar-style animation, it’s hard not to wonder where things are headed.

Now I don’t have a vendetta against Pixar’s animation style, not at all. Pixar uses its style to tell great stories, create relatable characters that stick with you, and it’s an admirable, beautiful craft. But the fact of the matter is that hand-drawn animated films have become a rarity, something that very well might be on its way out.

But then during the Oscars this year, I saw a film title pop up on the nominee list that I’d never heard of before — “Song of the Sea.” Not only was this 2014 film made by Cartoon Saloon, a company I’d never heard of before, it was also directed by Tomm Moore, someone I’d never really heard of before either. Moore, an Irish illustrator, burst onto the scene in 2009 with his film “Secret of Kells.” Before that though, Moore had only done an obscure project or two — no films.

But his Irish folklore piece looked so out of place there on the Oscars ballot next to powerhouse films like “Big Hero Six,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” There was something charming about this film and about the newness of it that made me want to give it a go.

And from the first frame, I was unable to look away.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT.

 And it’s all traditionally made animation. I’ll say it again: Traditionally. Made. Animation. Hand-drawn.

It’s just so very beautiful. There were some scenes where I paused the footage, just to look at how painstakingly minute some of the details were; some of the scenes were almost dream-like. This wasn’t just a film, this was art — wonder in the purest sense of the word.

But I’m not going to give a film a free pass just because it looks pretty, and “Song of the Sea” definitely isn’t just a pretty face. The films boasts rich folklore, most of which Celtic in origin; something a lot of moviegoers don’t get to see every day.

But the film is rich in narrative as well. Our basic plot revolves around Saoirse, a young girl who has lost her mother and is left living at a lighthouse with her older brother Ben, her father Conor, and their dog Cú. Saoirse is mute for most of the film, and her brother has come to resent her, believing she is responsible for their mother’s disappearance. But on her birthday, Saoirse discovers that she is a Selkie — a magical being capable of turning into a seal when she wears a white coat. But after finding her power, her grandmother comes to take Ben and Saoirse away to live in the city. From there, Saoirse and Ben must go on an epic journey home, save the world of magic, and discover the secrets of their past while being pursued by the owl witch, Macha, and a host of ancient and mystical creatures.

 And though Saoirse is the  character whose powers push the  plot forward and create a time-  sensitive story, her older brother  Ben is definitely the hero here.  Watching this young boy come to  love his sister and find power and  bravery within himself is just magical. There’s also a really great underlying theme about the power of feelings and though they can make life complicated, living without them is even worse.

I only had two minor hang-ups with the film — one is that the accents took a little getting used to. They’re very heavy and sometimes lines can be a little hard to hear if you’re not expecting it; and the other is that the folklore is also very new, so new that sometimes it took me a moment to catch up and recognize what legends some of the creatures were from. The film understands this, and most of the time we get a snippet of folklore, but sometimes it felt like a little much.

But one thing I don’t have any hang-ups about is putting this film on my list. This film made me so happy, for so many reasons. Watching it was an absolute joy: enchanting, magical, and so very beautiful. But long after the credits rolled, I felt this strange sense of ease. This film was from a new studio and a new director, and it was lovingly crafted — a real treasure. It was original and, though it was hand-drawn, showed a style of animation that still looked all its own. This film made me feel like I was watching something new, like I was watching animation’s future unfold in some very capable hands.

And the future looked very, very bright.

Mellinda Hensley

Mellinda Hensley is the editor-in-chief of the Southern California Review and a graduate student at USC. She also currently works at a law firm as a legal assistant where she gets to use skills such as chasing mail trucks, driving at unsafe speeds, and putting out metaphorical fires. She is an avid lover of Miyazaki, ramen, and films so bad they're good. She dreams of working for South Park and does a spot-on impersonation of Butters.