Wa­ter­borne

Song of the Sea, an­i­mated fan­tasy, rated PG, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Jen­nifer Levin

In Ir­ish and Scot­tish leg­end, a selkie is half-hu­man and half-seal, a be­ing able to live on land but al­ways long­ing for the sea. Selkie men se­duce un­happy hu­man women, and fe­male selkies some­times marry hu­man men, who must hide their wives’ seal­skins to keep them from re­turn­ing to the wa­ter. The sto­ries of th­ese ro­mances are gen­er­ally tragic, and it is of­ten the chil­dren of th­ese cou­plings who suf­fer.

In Song of the Sea, the sec­ond an­i­mated fea­ture by Tomm Moore (his first, The Se­cret of Kells, was nom­i­nated for an Os­car in 2010), a mother dies in child­birth and the baby girl, Saoirse (voiced by Lucy O’Con­nell), grows up picked on and re­sented by her older brother, Ben (David Rawle), who misses his mother. Through­out the film Ben re­calls the folk sto­ries his mother told him be­fore her death, and he trea­sures a shell she gave him, which he likes to hold to his ear. His sis­ter also val­ues the shell and is al­ways try­ing to take it from him. When Saoirse, who has never spo­ken, de­vel­ops an un­de­ni­able affin­ity for the wa­ter at age six, their still-griev­ing but well-in­ten­tioned fa­ther (Bren­dan Glee­son), who spends his time at the lo­cal tav­ern, al­lows their med­dling grand­mother (Fion­nula Flana­gan) to take them from their home in a light­house to live in Dublin. It is then up to Ben to lead his sis­ter back to her birthright.

The an­i­ma­tion is mostly hand-drawn, with some CGI en­hance­ment, and is res­o­lutely 2-D. It re­sem­bles a sto­ry­book, with in­spi­ra­tion taken from such pain­ters as Pi­casso, Klee, and Kandin­sky. The film has none of the zip and flash typ­i­cal of an­i­mated block­busters, so many of which rely on sen­sory over­load to cap­ture a viewer’s imag­i­na­tion. The story might be a bit thin for adults, but the old-fash­ioned ap­proach is com­fort­ing — although the film seems to strive for that sense of seren­ity to en­chant, an ef­fort that can feel some­what cloy­ing at times. Un­like The Se­cret of Roan In­ish — a live-ac­tion 1994 movie about the leg­end of the selkies di­rected by John Sayles, which of­fered a darker sense of adventure for more ma­ture view­ers — this movie is ap­pro­pri­ate and ac­ces­si­ble for very young au­di­ences.

The chil­dren’s jour­ney is fore­told by prophecy. Saoirse must sing to free the fairy sprites, who will oth­er­wise be turned to stone by the Celtic god­dess Macha. Most of the bat­tles in Song of the Sea em­pha­size the im­por­tance of ex­press­ing feel­ings rather than keep­ing them in­side. In the end, the sea song heals the rav­aged hearts of its char­ac­ters and the rocky is­lands upon which they dwell.

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