Tomm Moore, the Irish writer-director of 2009's stunning animated feature, The Secret of Kells, has hit it out of the park once again with his follow up, Song of the Sea, which is a gorgeous, meticulous, enchanting story that wrings such strong emotions that you'd have to be made of stone not to respond with some semblance of tears (I bawled like a baby). It's a wonderful story of magic, family and Irish mythology (like Kells was), that would be absolutely perfect for kids, especially those who've gotten used to seeing the same old corporate, CGI family schlock for well over a decade now.
Song of the Sea takes place in present day Ireland with a family who's been through a tragedy. Ben, the nine-year-old the film centers on, has grown up in a lighthouse with his dad and little sister, who was born on the same day his mother mysteriously disappeared and was presumed drowned. Now he and his sister Saoirse, who's six years old but still won't speak, have to come to grips with the true origins of their mother, who turns out to have been a Selkie, one of the magical creatures in Irish folklore- seals in the water, but humans on dry land. Saoirse has more in common with her mother than anyone thinks, and Ben must overcome his resentment towards her for their mother's death in order to help save her life as they make the journey together towards those who can help her.
This film is rendered with enormous sensitivity and appreciation for the characters, as the movie is just as much about repairing the bonds between family members after grief has struck them unable to communicate (Ben and Saoirse's father is also recovering from the loss of his wife and the shattering of his own happiness), as it is about encountering a plentiful stable of mythological characters the Selkie's song will bring forth- we see stone trolls come alive, and various magical creatures from the so-called "fairy" stories Ben's mother had told him before she died. Every sequence on the kids' adventure is awe-inspiring in terms of visual imagery- flat, still, and wildly colorful illustrations like something out of a children's storybook that resemble nothing being done in American animation today. Like last year's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, it shows you how much more 2D has the power to capture your visual imagination, because it can actually differ drastically in terms of style compared to the limits of CGI.
The quiet emotion of the story fills your heart in Song of the Sea's powerful final moments- there's not one wrong note throughout the entire runtime of this wonderful film, including the blissful score that will have a hard time leaving your head when it's all over. This is undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2014, and Tomm Moore is one of the true discoveries in animation over the last decade. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
* * * *