There may be European backing from a couple of countries, as well as Irish funding, but Cartoon Saloon’s Song of The Sea animation gem, which follows the highly-acclaimed The Secret of Kells feels wholly Irish.
Not Irish in a twee, stagey way, but in a way that is authentic, while making itself accessible to a global audience. The film mixes speech and song in both Irish and English, it has a score by Bruno Coulais, created in collaboration with Irish trad band Kila, which is perfectly sympathetic with the dramatic action. And Song of the Sea doesn’t do American accents.
The film draws on one of the most resonant creatures in Celtic/Icelandic/Faroese myth, that of the selkie who was said to live as a seal but sheds its skin to become human on land. It is really best not to spoil the tale, but suffice to say it concerns a family unit, broken forever by the lure of the sea for such creatures, who are torn between their earthly and marine existences.
A lot of Irish rain falls, some over the sea in storms, some over a beautifully green land. It’s an Ireland of Marian statues, of remote grottos, of fairies and Celtic myth, of the sea god Mananan Mac Lir, of creatures who lose their feelings and are turned to stone. These creatures languish, dead to the world, hoping to be rescued by a tune on a conch-like shell. Life and death bounce off each other movingly and with great feeling in this marvellous film.
Dublin too, the Dublin of snarling traffic, and of buses - with a cameo from a dryly laconic bus driver - is part of the story. The young boy Ben (voiced by David Rawle) and his sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) are taken from their remote lighthouse island home by their rapacious, interfering granny (Fionnuala Flanagan). Granny she may be to the two children, but she is dubbed ‘the old witch’ by the ferryman who ply back and forth between the lighthouse and the shore.
The children’s father is voiced by Brendan Gleeson, and it is a tribute to this remarkable actor that you can sense the breadth of his charismatic presence through the medium of voice alone. You will recognise other voices too, like Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny and a ghostly Lisa Hannigan. However, Gleeson has a certain advantage in that his character actually looks quite like him in real life.
Song of the Sea deals movingly with loss and how people get on with it, despite the pain, indulging in playful, colourful escapades on the way to a masterful, not quite pat resolution. Superb.