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.
(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.
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.