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Song of the Sea (2014)


Directed by Tomm Moore

Starring David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, & Lisa Hannigan

#ThrowbackThursday film review by Alexander Halsall

This hand drawn animated film is the second feature from Irish based animation studio Cartoon Saloon, following 2009’s The Secret of Kells. As with the previous film the main creative force behind Song of the Sea is that of director Tomm Moore, who also receives a story credit. The studio has been successful in the past by adapting native folk stories to the big screen and introducing the wider world audience to the highly colourful heritage of Irish mythology.

Ben (David Rawle) lives with his father Conor (Brendan Gleeson), the lighthouse keeper, and his pregnant mother Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) on a small island off the coast of Ireland. However Ben and his father are left devastated when Bronagh disappears without explanation one evening, leaving behind new born daughter Saoirse. Years later Conor is depressed and isolated towards his children. Saoirse has never spoken, and Ben blames her for Bronagh’s disappearance.

The phenomenally vibrant traditional animation techniques applied by the artists of Cartoon Saloon are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The layers of imagery on the screen rendered my thesaural like methods of praise muted, as I sat back and drank in with fervour the collaborated efforts of what are clearly some of the finest animators our hemisphere has to offer us. In the age of Disney, Ghibli, Pixar, Laika, Aardman and countless others, animation aficionados are truly living in what I will have to describe as a form of ‘golden age’ despite my disdain for the phrase. The voice work is mostly fantastic, with Rawle, Hannigan and Fionnula Flannigan all giving great vocal performances. The story is fantastical and majestic, complementing the films style, the narrative clear and concise, and the music strikingly atmospheric, courtesy of composer Bruno Culais, Irish folk group Kila and Hannigan’s stunning vocals. As I mentioned earlier I was very impressed with the performances, but I did find Brendan Gleeson’s deep tones somewhat distracting. Not that his lines are poorly delivered or out of rhyme with the speech of his character, but every time Conor speaks I was very aware I was listening to the actor. This may be due to Conor being such a desolate presence that Gleeson’s vocal range is quite slim and monotonous, which fits with the character, however the thought never left me throughout the film, and was slightly bothersome. I do though hope it speaks to the quality of the experience that my only complaint is one of little real basis, and may simply be something applicable to myself as a huge fan of a lot of Brendan Gleeson’s work (him being a fantastic actor) that I found it harder to divulge the voice of the actor from that of the character.

If you’re a fan of animation, Ireland, Gaelic music, sheepdogs, or have an hour and a half or so spare then I recommend you find yourself a copy of Song of the Sea, one of 2015’s finest offerings, and I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did.


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