7 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Song of the Sea’

10 Things Parents Columns Entertainment Movies

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1. What’s it about?

Song of the Sea is the latest film from Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells) and is based on the Irish legend of the selkie—creatures that live as seals in the sea but become human on land.

The film opens with young Ben’s most powerful memories of his mother: her stories about various Irish legends and her music. We quickly see that her songs have power, and that power is somehow locked up in a conch shell flute she left Ben (she died while giving birth to his sister Saoirse).

Five years later, Ben and Saoirse—who still hasn’t spoken a word—embark on an epic journey through a hidden world of magic, fairies, giants, and myths. Along the way, Saoirse’s own powers as a selkie awaken, and she develops the ability to bring her mother’s stories to life and save the spirit world from disappearing forever. She just needs to find her voice.

If you’ve got a couple minutes, watch the trailer or, better yet, this music video. It’s time well spent, and they’ll give you a good feel for the film, the animation, and the music.

(Song of the Sea opened in limited release on January 30. It will expand to various other cities throughout February and March. Check here to see where it’s playing near you.)

2. My Irish folklore is a little rusty. Will that be a problem?

Not really. The film does a good job of explaining what you really need to know about the myths and creatures that show up. The term selkie is never clearly explained, but I think most kids will be able to connect the dots and figure out that it’s a creature with extraordinary powers.

Some kids might have a bit of trouble with the accents, but that didn’t seem to be a problem during the show we attended.

3. Will my kids like it?

Probably. I wish I could be more decisive here, but this is a tough one. This is a very different type of film than something like The LEGO Movie or How to Train Your Dragon. If your kids enjoy any of the Studio Ghibli films—particularly My Neighbor Totoro, to which Song of the Sea has several parallels—then they’ll also like this. It is truly narrative-driven and generally quiet, but the main characters are kids, and they propel the entire plot.

My own kids (3 and 5) loved it and are already asking to see it again and buy it on Blu-ray. The story is beautiful and really transcends age. If nothing else, the animation should hold them spellbound.

All that being said, there are some intense scenes that might frighten younger viewers. When we finally meet Macha the witch and her owls, there are some scary scenes of Ben and Saoirse in peril.

The film is also incredibly emotional and very heavy in parts. It opens with a scene of Ben’s mother seemingly dying in childbirth, and then Ben and Saoirse spend a majority of the movie on their own in a string of dangerous situations. A particularly wrenching scene toward the end brought both my 5-year-old and my wife to tears.

4. Will I like it?

If you’re a fan of superb animation and storytelling, absolutely. It’s one of the five nominees for Best Animated Feature Film in this year’s Academy Awards. It’s probably the least-known in the category, but I’d argue that, despite the stiff competition, it should be the front-runner.

The film tackles some emotionally taxing themes of loss and grief, which clearly target a more mature audience. And parents will be able to connect with the difficulties that Ben and Saoirse’s father faces throughout.

Realistically, you’ll leave the theater with a lot to talk about with your kids. The main characters all travel a difficult road as they discover what Saoirse is becoming and grow out of the pain and anger that has consumed them since the mother’s death.

It’s heavy stuff for a kids’ movie, to be sure, but it’s very much worth it.

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5. I see that it’s rated PG. Anything really objectionable for younger kids?

Not really. Officially, it’s rated PG for “mild peril, language, and pipe smoking images.” Truthfully, that rating is appropriate, though I’d say it’s mostly due to the emotional weight of the story and the dangerous situations the kids find themselves in. (Saoirse goes swimming in the sea without supervision, both kids run away from their grandmother, Saoirse gets snatched away by a group of owls… you know, stuff like that.)

The only thing that might be construed as slightly objectionable are the words Feic Off scrawled across the door of a fairy house. It’s never spoken aloud or alluded to, and it doesn’t mean what it might sound like. It’s mild Irish slang… but you might not want your kids to co-opt it and start saying it at school.

6. How’s the animation?

Phenomenal. I’m trying not to be hyperbolic, but it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s entirely hand-drawn, and it is, quite simply, astounding. In an age when brilliant CG animation has become the norm, it’s extraordinary to see a feature-length animated film that’s drawn completely by hand.

It’s a stunning visual treat that will leave you wanting more. Seriously, it’s just gorgeous, and the animation overcomes any faults the film might otherwise have. If you only see the movie for the animation, you won’t be disappointed.

7. When is the best time for a bathroom break?

The film is only 94 minutes long, and there’s not a lot of wasted time. So if you can hold it, that’s your best bet. However, if it’s an emergency, you have a few minutes about 25 minutes in when Ben and Saoirse’s grandmother takes them to Dublin and then again about 50 minutes in when Ben meets a fairy with exceedingly long hair. You’ll miss a bit of exposition, so do hurry back.

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32 thoughts on “7 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Song of the Sea’

  1. I took my 3 year old to see it, thinking she could handle it based on what this review said. Nope! Not even close. It was waaaaay more intense than I was expecting. Very dark, rather grim and a score that made us want to crawl out of our skins. Personally, I thought it was brilliant, but not for a young one who is sensitive.

    1. Sorry to hear your little one didn’t like it. I tried to be pretty up front in my review that it’s very dark and heavy for a kids movie. Three might be a bit too young. My own 3-year-old liked it, but there were scenes that frightened him a bit. And I’m also sorry to hear that you didn’t like the score. I thought Bruno Coulais’s music was incredible and added so much to the film.

      1. My three year old brother loved it! When it was over he somehow managed to say ” Its beautiful I want to watch it forever!” and it was very cute. He managed to watch it five more times before it expired.

      2. I loved it. It’s on Netflix finally. My 4 year old son watched a bit of it. My sensitive 5 year old cried a bit at the height of the adventure but calmed down after the ending. It’s absolutely beautiful and I recommended it to everyone.

    2. The film is just stunning – so enriching, the ending beautifully so. I had my 7 and 4 year old watch it and they both loved it. The music is absolutely beautiful – how on earth could it make your skin crawl? I literally came across this film without knowing anything about it and so only read some reviews afterwards. 100% of reviews and comments about this film have been positive apart from the one above. I think that probably sets it in context. The film is not grim and dark, I think it takes some serious themes and deals wonderfully with them. More importantly, there is a very strong message (which my 7 YO understood) about bottling up emotions (literally – you’ll understand when you see the film!) and how it isn’t the answer. Personally I think this is exactly the film a sensitive young one would thrive on. I would say under 4s will probably struggle with parts so I would say 4+ for viewing.

  2. Not all children are the same, so that needs to be taken into account. I don’t think it’s too dark for children generally speaking, even if some sensitive kids may reactive negatively to it. My baby is 3 and she LOVES this movie.

  3. This was an immediate classic for our family. (two daughters 4 and 9 years old). It is tense at times, but such wonderous art, music and messages of strong family bonds. If you are relating it to Studio Ghibli it’s closer to Spirited Away than My Neighbor Totoro. I also loved Secret of the Kells, but it is much much darker and a bit much for my 9 year old. Thanks for a great review in a world obsesesd with insanely fast paced action movies.

  4. My kids, ages 7 and 4, loved it right away, and we’ve rented it three times now. My 4-year old son keeps asking for Song of the Sea pajamas. Three weeks after the last viewing, he sings the songs while he’s brushing his teeth. This isn’t one of those syrupy fairy stories shot through with inane pop music and dance scenes–we’ve suffered through half a dozen of those thanks to Amazon Prime. There is real loss and grief in this film, which Ben (the older brother) in particular struggles with and overcomes. That’s a good thing. And the best part is, it’s a real fairy story, and seems to be astonishingly authentic in its mythology. I’m so glad my son is obsessed with this–it’s a welcome change of pace from video games and pretend play that involve being a superhero and punching robots and bad guys. Wish I could buy him the pajamas.

  5. Watched “Song of the Sea” today with my two girls aged 6 and 3. To be honest, my little girl was very emotional when the boy and the girl were forcefully taken away from their father. My Elder girl really loved the background score and young daughter tried her best to figure out what selkies were and guess what, now both of my girls are asking me to buy them the coat that will ultimately make them able to to transform themselves to seals! the last song was more than amazing… I am thankful to the whole “Song of the Sea” team for giving such an amazing movie to people out there in the whole world. Being single father and looking after girls would be way difficult if we don’t have such beautiful animations and other parenting-supporting stuffs!

  6. i took my two children ( 4&5) the other day and we loved it. we are into our studio ghibli film so thought it would be right up our street. They both ended up crying at the end and I had to explain that their mummy wasn’t a fairy (selkie) so wasn’t going anywhere but other than that we loved it. the next day I was playing the soundtrack and they both stopped to listen with me and asked to see it again. iv fell in love with this film for so many reasons. hand drawn films always seem much better to me and this doesn’t disappoint. If your willing to explore emotions with your kids I would highly recommend this film it is truly fantastic.

  7. My nearly 4 year old is absolutely in love with this film. She’s also a huge fan of he majority of Miyazaki’Miyazaki’s films (I haven’t showed her Princess Mononoke for obvious reasons). The music in the movie is hauntingly beautiful and she hums it all the time now. I agree that it is a dark movie for a lot of young children, but I know the maturity of my kids and what they can handle. If she has questions or is upset about something, she’s very quick to ask for help sorting out her feelings. The film animation is breathtaking.

  8. I would have been obsessed with this movie at 4. But I was also obsessed with Watership Down at 4, and my favorite movie was the Dark Crystal, so I think it really does depend on your individual kid.

  9. I watched this with my 2 1/2 yr old and she is spell bound by the music and wonderful colors. Being Irish we love this movie. Though I would have to disagree that the mother died in child birth as the end the mother comes back and explains all her kind are leaving forever. She gives her family her love and leaves with the other selkies. She birthed her daughter in the water as a seal and then left the baby on the shore before swimming off. Loved this movie.

  10. Im 24 yo and I LOOOOOOVE love love this movie, can’t express it enough! it’s so amazing and I think it can be enjoyed by both younger and older audience. I’m very into animation, and so far this is my favourite no 1. I’m so mesmerised with the drawings every time I watch it!

  11. A cool thing about “feic off”…it’s actually a nod to the Irish language. When that word is used as an oath, it’s spelled “feck.” “Feic” is the Irish word for “See/look.” By playing on this, the sign maker is, on the one hand, telling the reader to go away, and on the other, telling him to look more deeply. Beautiful word play, if you’re an Irish speaker!

  12. I discovered this movie scrolling down through best movies on rotten tomatoes, my daughter (7) and I queued it up the next day. We have probably watched it a half a dozen times now…finished the last half this morning again. Emotionally I’m a lightweight and she’s gotten used to her 6′ 200 pound dad with tears streaming down his face the last few minutes. Jamie’s review is bang on. If you like this you will like the animated version of the Gruffulo as well… Half the length and half the emotion… Brilliant combination of animation and claymation.

  13. My daughter told me about this film. She says my granddaughter who is 17 months LOVES it! I found this site looking for Easter Basket gifts for her. Any suggestions?

  14. So, I showed this to the neighbors kids (around 6 and 7) and they really REALLY got very emotional at some points. Their parents actually wanted to give me shit about it, even though after the movie ended they absolutely loved it. Why are people afraid of emotions when it comes to kids? It’s not something you can or should protect them from…it’s not wrong to feel sad watching a movie and being empathic goddamnit. 😀
    In fact I think it is very important. Learning to feel with and for others, even the imaginary ones, will make it easier to do the same later in life. So what I am saying is this movie is so awesome, if you show it to your kids, it will probably make them better persons in the future. 😀

  15. This was the first movie my almost-six year old daughter sat through in mostly-silent contemplation. I could tell it took her a little time to process the emotional weight, but it lead to some good conversations. My other daughter, who has autism, didn’t want to pay attention to the whole movie but they both thougfhrly love the main songs in the soundtrack and sing them in the car. The ending credits “lullaby” song is precious.

  16. My 12 boy and two girls 6 & 2 1/2 LOVED it! Both young girls are singing the song if the sea, I love hearing the littlest one. It was a treat for our family and we just watched again the next day. We will have to own this soon.

  17. My 4 year old can’t get enough of this movie. We found it on our Amazon Fire and ended up buying it so she can watch it at least once a day (if not more). She wants to change her name to Saoirse (which oddly enough we had considered in utero) and be a selkie.

  18. My daughters are 18 and 2, my son 15, and all three of them adore this movie. The two year old demands to see it about once a week, and is completely rapt during it.

    I have to admit, the adults are impressed, too. An amazing production.

  19. My almost 2, 5 , and 13 year old loved this movie. We have watched it twice now and I’m sure that they will continue to watch it over and over again. My 5 year old loved the music too. This is such a great and moving story.

  20. Your synopsis of this movie is excellent and we loved it. It is beautiful in every way, for myself at 40 years of age and my daughter who discovered the movie at 7 years of age. This will be a classic in our home. Thank you Geek Dad!

  21. My three-year-old loves this movie. She wants to watch it every day. I’m happy she likes this over Frozen. It seems like a children’s movie except it has more depth than other movies in the genre. Overall, it’s a great movie.

  22. I have a 2 and 4 year old they absolutely love this movie. They want to watch it everyday and multiple times as well. They are also fans of Studio Ghibli movies.

  23. I understand Macha can be frightening, she gave me the heebie-jeebies too at first, but I was more concerned than that of my 4 and 6 year old at the time – weird – but we love this movie, the animation and music are amazing! One of this best children’s movies I have ever seen in my opinion, the end still chokes me up.

  24. I love this movie so much. As a mother of a boy & girl and as a sister I was able to relate to the feeling of protecting who you love at any cost.

    It’s been so long since a movie, especially one rated PG moved me to tears, in a way more powerful than a Disney film.

    The animation is breathtaking. The odd perspectives, beautiful scenery, and funny creatures are all glowing with magic.

    I watch this movie with my 2 year old and she watches every minute. It’s going to be wonderful watching it when she & her brother are older.

    10/5 stars

  25. I adore this movie. I saw it before my daughter was born and couldn’t wait until she was ready to watch it. I showed it to her just after she turned 3 and I was so happy when she loved it as much as I do. It’s a beautiful movie with the most lovely story. I cry every time at the end. I love to think that it will be this movie that my daughter will fondly remember from her childhood. It’s truly a gem.

  26. The first time I watched this movie I cried my eyes out and I still do, especially at the end. As a mom of a 2.5 year old I am extremely sensitive to stories about children separated from their parents. My son watched it too and is completely obsessed. He knows the songs, is mesmerised by the artwork, asks so many questions… I am not sure he understands the depth of the story but he pulls a sad face when Ben is faced with the flashback of the disappearance of his mom. I believe he will remember Song of the Sea as one of the movies of his childhood. Honestly, There is so much I can say about this movie but I will stick to a few words: magical, enchanting, very heavy in emotions and utterly unforgettable… a true piece of art.

  27. I LOVE Song of the Sea, such a beautiful movie. Is it strange I wish to be a selkie? I don’t care. Love the animation, my entire family watches it a lot, love the song, and I listen to it quite a bit! I recommend it to everyone! Very fragile kids might cry, but your child should be alright.

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