I’ll be getting to “Big Hero 6”, last month’s Best Animated Feature Oscar winner, at some point in March. And it better be good! Here’s the thing, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was the expected winner, and while nothing extraordinary, I found it to be smart and fun. “The Boxtrolls” was even better, and I was quite pleased when it grabbed a nomination in the category, as well. But now that I’ve seen “Song of the Sea”, I’m doubting that I’ll experience a better animated film from 2014. “Song of the Sea” is a melancholy, magical, haunting ride, and it leaves a heck of an emotional impact. Plus, it’s NOT from the big Disney machine.
Two young siblings, Ben and Saoirse, live in a lighthouse by the sea in Ireland. Their kindly father, Conor, has struggled to raise them since losing his wife, Bronagh, soon after the birth of their daughter. Young Ben has carried a level of resentment since his mother went away, as he’s old enough to remember her departure. Saoirse, on the other hand, hasn’t spoken a word in the six years since Bronagh left them. When the children’s granny decides that their father isn’t able to raise them properly on his own, she takes them to her place in the big city. Unhappy, they seek and discover the origins of their mother, which leads to a magical journey to a “home” amongst the seas.
“Song of the Sea” is steeped in Irish songs and folklore, and it’s been brought to us by much of the same team that created 2009’s “The Secret of the Kells” (also a Best Animated Feature nominee). Director Tomm Moore maintains the perfect grasp on this mystical material, and the screenplay by Will Collins is gentle, yet stirring. There is also wonderful voice work from Brendan Gleeson as Conor, Fionnula Flanagan as Granny, and David Rawle as young Ben. The music by Bruno Coulais and Kila grips your heart, and stays with your mind, long after the credits roll. But mostly you are taken by the plight of two wee little ones that pine for their mum, and “Song of the Sea” captures the strength of that longing, and harnesses it in a way that is neither saccharine nor cloying. Add gorgeous, traditional animation to the mix, and you’ll wonder why “Song of the Sea” didn’t receive a higher level of attention. It’s super.