From the writer and director of the Academy Award-nominated The Secret of Kells comes an enchanting fable about loss, magic and the love of family. When Saoirse and Ben's mother mysteriously disappears into the ocean, the two children go on an epic journey to find out the truth about her, and in the process, discover mystical secrets about both their mother and Saoirse herself. The film's voice talent includes Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan.
I know of no other way to describe the sincerity and effectiveness of Tomm Moore's beautifully simple Miyazaki-esque fairy tale than this: My nearly four-year old son was tearing up at the end. With tears welling up in his eyes he sat there staring at the screen. I asked him if he was okay. He sniffled, looked up at me, and said, "Yes, I'm just doing this," calling attention to his finger rubbing the tears out of his eyes. It was one of the tenderest moments I've ever witnessed.
I relay this experience because 'Song of the Sea' isn't just a quaint little animated story about a girl who becomes a stunningly white seal whenever she puts on a special coat. It's a movie that moved a child tremendously. My son connected with the story, the characters, their plight, and the adult situations they found themselves in. The fact that the movie was able to convey those feelings on an emotional level that a three-and-a-half-year-old could understand, analyze, and comprehend is a monumental achievement.
The story is centered on two siblings. Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell) and her brother Ben (Kevin Swierszcz). While Saoirse possess some sort of magic and happens to be at the centerpiece of the movie's artwork and advertising, this movie is really about Ben. About how he deals with becoming a forgotten child, as far as his perception is concerned. Their mother was lost during Saoirse's birth, and Ben was flung from the most central role of the family to the outskirts. Saoirse took all of their father's attention. Wandering through a haze of depression, Ben's father (Brendan Gleeson) seems to disregard him. Unintentionally treating him as if he was invisible. In order to counteract the loneliness Ben befriends the family dog, and becomes jaded toward everyone – especially his darling mute sister.
What's so refreshing about 'Song of the Sea' is the same thing that makes 'My Neighbor Totoro' such an indelible treat. This movie gets children. It doesn't treat them as mindless and unoriginal. There's a deep, lasting relationship here. A complex matrix of familial anguish affecting every moment of their lives. It's all interconnected, and the screenplay understands that. The children are given some emotional heft to labor with as the story plays out. They interact in a real, genuine way. It's rather beautiful to behold.
Speaking of beauty, the animation is absolutely stunning. Mirroring something akin to a motion picture pop-up book, the artwork is entrancing and unique. The boldness of the 2D animation provides more depth and dimension than many 3D computer-generated films. 'Song of the Sea' calls to mind the enchanting simplicity of Miyazaki's animation. A world seemingly simply animated providing a rich bounty of exquisite artwork.
Animation provides an exclusive quality to it in which the movie is only bound by the imagination limitations of its creators. Moore and company, have more than enough imagination to go around, and their ability to convey their thoughts in art is extraordinary.
'Song of the Sea' is entirely, and utterly engulfing. A movie that doesn't rely solely on its bizarrely attractive animation. There's an authentic heart at the center of the narrative that speaks to everyone, both young and old.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This set comes with two discs, a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD. There is also an UltraViolet Digital Copy included. The discs are packed in a standard keepcase. A slipcover is included also.
I can't think of a moment in this movie that I wouldn't want to pause, print, and frame. Many of the stills are unquestionably gorgeous. Thankfully, the 1080p transfer is true to its source. There isn't any cut corners or compression oddities here. The entire presentation is a vivid wonder. A moving storybook of watercolor backgrounds, bold character lines, and resolute color fills.
Let's just get this out of the way first, 'Song of the Sea' is certainly demo-worthy material. Even more so than some CGI animation, which has until now been the high definition bar that all other animation tries to reach. 'Song of the Sea' has done it. The visuals here are remarkable in a way that's almost indescribable. The depth of the image is stirring. Black areas are deep, color is pure, and whites are luminescent. Clarity is perfect.
Banding? There may be a smidge. Perhaps half a smidge. It doesn't really matter since it's there and gone in an instant. The rest of the movie is free from artifacts. A strikingly animated landscape that I can't possibly imagine getting old any time soon.
You might think that a small animated film such as this would have a pretty low-key audio mix, right? Well, if you were thinking that you'd be 100-percent incorrect. 'Song of the Sea's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surprisingly full of just about everything you'd want in a high-def audio presentation. From the rumbling of the bass to the perfect prioritization of the surround channels, this audio mix rivals the video presentation in quality.
The immersiveness of the sound field truly caught me off guard. Rear channels are constantly alive with the cawing of sea gulls, the rush of coastal winds, and the crashing of waves. The sub-woofer gets a workout during the more intense scenes where low-end frequencies are used rather inventively. Dialogue is wonderfully clear.
I was most impressed by the way the audio mix completes the movie. Again it isn't resting on its laurels, hoping that its animation can carry it. The way the sound interacts with the story, the way it plays around in each channel, creates a synchronicity with the visuals. Neither one could survive long without the other. They're both considered demo material in my book.
Audio Commentary – Tomm Moore provides the commentary here. It's rather straight forward, but does offer insight into the production of the movie, the extensive work that went into creating its lush animation, and how the story evolved to its final product.
Behind the Scenes (HD, 3 min.) – Too short to really get into the fantastic work that went on behind the scenes to make this movie a reality. An optional commentary track is available from Moore to provide a few more interesting insights.
Animation Tests (HD, 8 min.) – A rough guide through the animation process with Moore offering commentary on it.
The Art of 'Song of the Sea' (HD, 7 min.) – A relaxing montage of concept art and other production stills from the movie's animation process.
Conceptual Preview (HD, 1 min.) – A conceptual look at the film that was put together before the movie began production.
With Miyazaki hanging it up, perhaps Tomm Moore can become a worthy successor. 'Secret of Kells' was great, but 'Song of the Sea' is a downright masterpiece. What an expressively complex, fantastically animated fairy tale that never dumbs itself down. It never thinks the younger audience that may be watching might not be able to understand the headier issues. It's fully intent on providing a story fraught with emotion. A dissection of sibling rivalry and unconditional love. With demo-worthy video and audio, 'Song of the Sea' is highly recommended.