Much like the Celtic myth that pervades this beautifully realised film, hand-drawn animation is slowly receding into the past. How joyful it is, then, that the Cartoon Saloon, like Japan’s Studio Ghibli, is fighting a rearguard action of such proficiency and wonder. The Irish studio’s Song Of The Sea is the second feature from Irish director Tomm Moore and, like its predecessor, 2009’s The Secret Of Kells, its tune tickled the ears of the Academy, earning the filmmakers a second successive Oscar nomination.
As with Kells, Moore again plunges into his native tradition, this time telling a selkie’s tale. The selkie — a female faerie-world seal that lives among us in human form — has a home in the folklore of many North European people that work upon the sea and, like a true folk-storyteller, Moore places his magical beings in the midst of a drama rippling with pan-generational appeal.
His saucer-eyed characters are a delight to behold, while the symmetry that runs through so many of his elegantly wrought frames is a constant source of pleasure. There’s a satisfying symmetry within the narrative, too, where events in the real world are mirrored by those in a mythic realm, the two overlapping courtesy of a selkie child born to a faerie-world mother and a human father.
After the children’s grandmother takes them away from a seaside solitude and introduces them to the clamour of city life, the brother and sister begin to understand the latter’s otherworldly nature and embark on an odyssey back to their father and their life by the sea.
Their adventure brings them to a clutch of faerie folk who tell of an owl witch who is turning beings into stone by stealing their feelings. It’s a journey that touchingly reveals the importance of freely accepting all of our emotions, even sadness and sorrow. Only then can we live a fully realised life.