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Toronto Review: “Song of the Sea” is a Blissfully Beautiful Journey Into Irish Folklore

Toronto Review: "Song of the Sea" is a Blissfully Beautiful Journey Into Irish Folklore


The product of a miraculously unique brand of animated alchemy, Tomm Moore’s follow-up to the Academy Award-nominated “The Secret of Kells,” is an even more stunning work of art. As if wrapped in a blanket made of gorgeous magical dreams, watching “Song of the Sea” is a
spellbinding experience that captures fantasy in its purest form. Cartoon Saloon has once again reinterpreted Irish folktales and crafted a world so
unimaginably alluring is hard not to surrender to its charm.

Sporting a superhero cape and a spunky attitude, Ben (voiced by David Rawle) is a 10-year-old boy who lives in an island with his younger sister Saoirse, his father Conor (Brendan Gleeson), a
lighthouse keeper, and his adorable dog Cú, a joyful and loyal furball. Living in what seems to be the 80s, Ben’s most prized possessions include goofy 3-D
glasses and a rock-and-roll-ready Walkman – fun items for a kid his age. But amongst these, a peculiar seashell given to him by Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan), his mother, before
passing away, holds a special place in his memory. The singular keepsake doesn’t only connect him to her, but also to the many stories of magical creatures
and enchanted worlds he grew up listening to. His role as a big brother is not something he enjoys. Little Saoirse, who has never uttered a word but is their
father’s only source of happiness, easily frustrates Ben.

One night as if in a trance, Saoirse is escorted into the ocean by a group of smiling seals wearing a shiny mystical coat that belonged to her mother. It
is then that her remarkable power is revealed. She is a beautiful white Selkie – a mythological being that lives as a human on ground and as a seal
underwater – and has a mission to accomplish. But after this incident, the kids pompous Granny (Fionnula Flanagan), who lives in the city, beliefs the seaside life is too dangerous and
takes them back with her to the urban sprawl. Their father is still so paralyzed with grief after losing his beloved wife that he agrees with her plan.

Unsatisfied with their new situation, the siblings attempt to trek back to the island. Along the way they are confronted with an array of whimsical friends
and enemies realizing that those mythical stories their mom used to recite are actually tangible. Musical fairies in distress, an eccentric Wiseman whose every hair holds a
memory, and an owl-like witch who stores her emotions, and those of everyone else in this magical realm, in tight-sealed enchanted jars. Indeed a clever
metaphor for bottling emotions that turn hearts into stone. Only Saoirse’s yet non-existent voice can save them and restore order both in the real world
and the ancestral kingdom.

Resembling rustic watercolor paintings enhanced with movement, there is an artisanal quality to every frame. From the sea, to the city, to the forest and
the fantastical underworld, the amount of details employed in every creature and space is breathtaking. Nothing is overlooked. So meticulous is their
approach that even transmission towers have a distinct design. Unattainable by solely using computer animation, the film’s visual aesthetic feels
simultaneously handcrafted and otherworldly. Filled with a classical warmth, “Song of the Sea” should remind everyone why animation, when done as
flawlessly as it is here, is such a incredible medium. Color, form, and fluid motion delivered in an unforgettable style that’s at the service of a
similarly compelling story.

An ethereal atmosphere imbues the film thanks to the evocative score by Bruno Coulais. His music builds a bridge between the two worlds and adds a wonderfully enigmatic
tone. By the same token, the glowing lighting work of the animators is worthy of enormous praise. Their manufactured cinematography is vivid and subtle all
at once. It makes the sea shimmer with uncanny intensity and the lovely characters sparkle with life. Written by William Collins, the narrative itself packs heartfelt
themes weaved into the mythological components. Adults have been consumed with pain and have protected themselves with solid armatures only breakable with
the hopeful innocence of children. Reconnecting with ones roots and appreciating the value of selfless courage, figure prominently as themes in the film.

With only two animated features under his belt, it’s clear that a few years from now –sooner rather than later – we will be talking about Tomm Moore with
the same reverence and adoration as we do now about Miyazaki. Here is a new master animator on his way to becoming legendary on his own right. Moore has
taken us on a journey into Irish folklore that truly isn’t quite like anything seen before. Old tales of honor, valor, and family values adapted for the
screen with the transfixing power of its dreamlike drawings. Watching “Song of the Sea” it’s easy to assert that this is one of the most blissfully
beautiful animated films ever made. It is a gem beaming with awe-inspiring, heartwarming magic.

Song of the Sea” had its World Premier on Saturday September 6th at TIFF. GKIDS will release the film theatrically on December 19th in NYC and Toronto.

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