Song Of The Sea Sea Change

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Do you be­lieve in MAGIc? Did you ever? It’s easy to for­get that folk­lore and cul­tural mythol­ogy was once as widely ac­cepted as mod­ern science. That wan­ing con­nec­tion to the old ways in­spired Car­toon Sa­loon, the stu­dio be­hind The Se­cret Of Kells, to cre­ate Song Of The Sea – a tra­di­tion­ally an­i­mated kids’ adventure steeped in half- forgotten Ir­ish folk­lore.

“I was think­ing about when we started to change in the coun­try. When did those old be­liefs start to dis­ap­pear?” direc­tor Tomm Moore tells Red Alert. “And I was think­ing about the fact that folk­lore was get­ting turned into some­thing for tourists rather than some­thing that was re­ally be­lieved and felt. I thought we were los­ing some­thing more than sto­ries if peo­ple were start­ing to dis­re­gard the en­vi­ron­ment be­cause of it.”

The film fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on the Celtic sto­ries of the Selkie – mytho­log­i­cal crea­tures that are hu­mans by land, seals by sea. Six- year- old Saoirse is the last of her kind. With their fa­ther still in mourn­ing, Saoirse and her older brother Ben are sent in­land to live with their grand­mother. But with Saoirse be­com­ing in­creas­ingly sick, Ben must help his sis­ter back to the sea to save not only her­self, but the mys­ti­cal crea­tures that in­habit the Ir­ish coun­try­side, among them stone gi­ant Mac Lir and Macha, the Owl Witch.

“Ev­ery­thing in it is ref­er­enced from folk­lore, but ev­ery­thing is adapted to suit the story,” Moore ex­plains. “We wanted the core of the story to be about the fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly Ben, so a lot of char­ac­ters from folk­lore we’re us­ing as mir­rors to what’s go­ing on in the main fam­ily story – the granny is echoed in the witch, the dad is echoed in the gi­ant and so on.”

This ap­proach to folk­lore was in­spired by the films of Stu­dio Ghi­bli, “I al­ways ad­mired the way Hayao Miyazaki’s films are very uni­ver­sal and you can en­joy them with­out know­ing any­thing about Ja­panese cul­ture,” Moore says. “That made them re­ally unique and spe­cial and added some­thing to their mys­tery. I wanted to do some­thing like that with Ir­ish sto­ries.”

Song Of The Sea’s story starts in 1987 for good rea­son – partly be­cause, as a 10- year- old at that time, Moore re­mem­bered there still be­ing a tan­gi­ble be­lief in the old ways, and partly be­cause the film takes some of its cues from Am­blin’s fam­ily- friendly ’ 80s adventure movies. “That’s what Will [ Collins, writer] and I talked about a lot, ET and that feel­ing of those films that we watched grow­ing up. There just isn’t that same sense of clas­sic fairy­tale any more, ev­ery­thing is very pop cul­ture heavy now, which is great, but it’s nice to try and make some­thing a lit­tle more time­less.

“My main con­cern with this film was to make sure it would work for chil­dren,” Moore as­serts. “I thought the unique­ness of the art style and the depth of the story would al­low it to be en­joyed by adults as well but I re­ally did want to make a film like My Neigh­bour To­toro that had a lit­tle bit more of a melan­choly tinge to it. Kids’ films are re­ally im­por­tant be­cause it might be the first film some­one sees, so there’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make a film that re­ally lasts.”

Song Of The Sea opens on Fri­day 10 July.

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