Song of the Sea Parent Review
Ten-year-old Ben (voiced by David Rawle,) lives with his family on a small island off the Irish coast. The rocky shore and friendly seals may seem magical to Ben’s younger sister Saoirse (voiced by Lucy O’Connell), however to him the ocean is a frightening place. He’s been wary of the water ever since the mysterious disappearance of his mother on the night of Saoirse’s birth. And to make matters worse, his father (voiced by Brendan Gleeson), preoccupied with his own loneliness, dotes on Saoirse but barely notices his troubled son. Feeling increasingly resentful of his sister’s attention, Ben is left with only his loyal sheepdog Cú to confide in.
Then, on Saoirse’s sixth birthday, everything changes. After a swim in the forbidden sea, the little girl discovers she is a selkie—one of those mythical creatures that appear human but can transform into a seal. Tales of these magical beings were often featured in their mother’s bedtime stories. Still, Ben finds it hard to believe his small sister, who has never even learned to talk, is anything special.
By this time Saoirse’s strange behavior has attracted the criticism of the children’s meddlesome Granny (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan). Even though she is unaware of the wee one’s secret, Granny is sure the kids would be better off living with her, rather than staying with their depressed father on the isolated island. Cutting short Saoirse’s underwater explorations, Granny takes action and packs both youngsters onto the ferry headed for the mainland. The move is devastating for Ben, especially because he is forced to leave his father and pet dog behind.
It only takes one afternoon in the confines of the big city before Ben decides to make his own way home. Using a hand drawn map, and equipped with a heroic looking cape, he sets out. Yet Saoirse refuses to let him leave without her. It soon becomes apparent that wherever the little girl goes, magic follows. After the pair runs into three comical, interfering fairies, Ben finally concedes all the supernatural characters in their mother’s stories are real, and his sister is somehow part of a magical world where she is destined to make a big difference.
When Macha the witch (also voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) and her owl minions get involved in keeping Saoirse from fulfilling her destiny, Ben realizes that getting home is less of a priority than keeping the tiny tot safe. Rising to the occasion, he puts aside his personal hurt as he comforts and protects his sibling and determines to help her fulfill her quest.
This adventure story is a work of art from start to finish. Abstract environments, vivid colors, and haunting music set it apart from the ordinary fairytale fare. These, plus the creatures that inhabit the screen, give the production a distinctly Irish flavor. The selkies, fairies, and giants reference ancient stories of the Emerald Isle too.
Unfortunately, viewers without some understanding of the cultural context may find these elements bizarre and frightening. Even the human characters differ from their American counterparts. Young Ben sometimes voices his frustrations with very Irish cuss words, and his father tries to escape his grief in the local pub. The ferry driver smokes a pipe, and Granny keeps a proper Catholic home, with religious images covering the walls. While these details give the story a sense of realism often absent from other children’s films, they may require some explanation.
Although the characters’ hurt at the loss of a parent, moments of peril, and confusing fantasy environments make this movie too intense for little ones, slightly older audience will appreciate Ben’s touching transformation into a loving and caring big brother. As well, his growing understanding of the deeper feelings of the adults in his life gives this film a power that resonates across cultural boundaries.
The unusual beauty of the animation is a joy to behold, no matter the age of the audience. But the real magic comes from seeing a struggling family start to have empathy for one another and pull together to heal each other’s sorrows.Directed by Tomm Moore. Starring David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan,Lucy O'Connell. Running time: 93 minutes. Updated April 13, 2015
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Song of the Sea here.
Song of the Sea Parents Guide
Talk about the movie with your family…
Throughout much of the film, Ben blames his sister for the problems. Why is this behavior unfair? How can you avoid making similar mistakes in your own life?
Near the beginning of the film, Saoirse is hurt when Ben speaks unkindly to her. Have you ever been wounded by words? Why is it so important that members of a family speak with gentleness to each other? How can you remember to show love and respect in the way you speak to others?
Many characters in the film are dealing with grief, and wish they could remove feelings of hurt and loss from their lives. Have you ever wished you could get rid of unwanted emotions? Why might all emotions, even bad ones, be important? What are some constructive ways to deal with feelings of sadness or loss?
Ben’s character changes from bitter and unhappy to warm and loving over the course of the film. When does he begin to change? What triggers this change in his behavior?
This movie depicts many fantastic creatures from the stories of Irish myth. What stories are told in your culture? What lessons might they teach?
Learn more about the legends of Selkies.