When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the list of nominees for Best Animated Picture, I recognized all but one: “Song of the Sea.” Intrigued, I googled it and realized why — the movie has only had limited releases so far and hasn’t even been released in its country of origin yet. Luckily, it’s showing at the Edwards Westpark 8, so I went to go see what the Academy saw as potentially award winning.
“Song of the Sea” is about a brother-and-sister duo struggling with their connection to the Celtic myth of the selkie, a shapeshifting creature, which turns human on land and changes into a seal when in the water. When the sister, Saoirse, finds a special coat locked in her father’s closet, she unknowingly sets off an adventure that takes her and her brother to places they never dreamed off, causing them to face fears and insecurities that challenge them to become more than what they are.
Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn’t deal with any particular myth from the Celtic culture, but rather seems to take aspects of the Celtic and Scottish mythos and combine them to create its own special tale. And yet, I’m okay with that because the movie still focused on and dedicated itself to being about that culture.
The reason I bring that up is because I’ve noticed recently that Disney, the current animation powerhouse, has ignored or skimped out on respect for the cultures they portray, like in “Frozen,” which only paid homage to the Scandinavian and Sami culture through a couple character and building designs, and one song that played for 30 seconds in the opening sequence. But the Irish-based animation company which created “Song of the Sea,” Cartoon Saloon, poured their hearts into making the Celtic, Irish and Scottish culture apparent not only in the story, but in the art and the music too.
The art had a certain fluidity and movement to it that made it feel alive, while the music was captivating and drew me in to the world that the movie inhabited. Another movie that did that this past year, which isn’t getting enough attention in my opinion, is “The Book of Life” — but I digress. Either way, “Song of the Sea” is unique and a wonder for the senses as it takes you into its world of fairies, witches and giants.
The only downside to this movie was that it didn’t seem to be very memorable to me. I had a similar problem with “The Secret of Kells,” Cartoon Saloon’s previous commercially-successful film in the United States. I know it’s not the emotional toll, since the movie almost made me cry, and I know it isn’t the lack of gorgeous production value as that’s what I fell in love with the most, but what it might be is the lack of a powerful ending. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the United States and have come to expect larger and more impactful endings, but in both “The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea,” the ending seemed to simply putter along without there ever being a real sense of danger for the characters involved.
On the other hand, don’t take this to mean that the movie was lackluster or boring — it was anything but. The adventures that the brother and sister go through are enjoyable and even a tad bit scary sometimes, reminding me of Studio Ghibli’s films every now and then. So even if the ending isn’t perfect, the rest of the movie is an absolute treat and I would definitely recommend it.
RECOMMENDED: Despite a slightly unfulfilling ending, “Song of the Sea” is a beautifully animated adventure with deep, well-realized cultural themes.