Song Of The Sea Sea Change
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.