[VFF’15] Come Sail Away with Me with the Song of the Sea

10 Feb

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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When young Ben (David Rawle) gets charged with taking care of his young sister, Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell), and she finds a sea-shell ocarina that she wants to learn how to play, the “Song of the Sea” that gets discovered is nothing but pure magic. For this young girl attempting to play this musical instrument, she discovers the Selkie, mythical seals who have the ability to transform into humans. Their connection with the sea is important, but not everyone in the family agrees.

Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) wants to take them away from life by the ocean. They lost their mother and while Conor (Brendan Gleeson), their father, does his best to maintain the lighthouse out in Northern Ireland, located near glen Colm Cille, (Writer/director Tomm Moore reveals it’s a fictional place that’s actually based on two other lighthouses, Fastnet and Hook Head, located elsewhere in this country), his lament becomes nothing but pure misery on the anniversary of her death.

Perhaps that’s why Granny takes them away sooner than later. She knows just how much her son is hurting. This melancholy can be seen and thankfully, it’s hardly ever felt in a movie that celebrates tradition. The circles and swirls that flies about does more than acknowledge this culture’s Celtic heritage. The legends are hidden in places that’s sadly forgotten. The faeries and elves are everywhere. To be culturally correct, the Fae and Sidhe are n’er. The anglicizations are acceptable in order to make the mythology understood for the people who are not used to Irish terms.

The same can be said about the legends from this country. Not everyone will be familiar with local legends like Táin Bó Cuailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley) or the Ulster cycle. When part of the lore blends with the Christian traditions that includes Cú Chulainn, the nods that are made certainly adds level to this film that I certainly appreciate. Even the juxtapositions of who Granny and Conor are to certain local legends — especially that of Manannán mac Lir, a sea-god and lord of the Otherworld — really adds a complexity to the narrative. There’s a reason why Song of the Sea takes place on All Hallow’s Eve, when the veil is thin between the spirit and human world.

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Cú, Ben’s faithful dog, does more than adore audiences with his shagginess. He channels some of the same heroic spirit as Chulainn when he goes looking for his ‘master’ and when they pair up again, Ben learns about what it takes to be heroic. The boy has insecurities to overcome and that adds to the layered plot. For a lad afraid of touching water, he manages to learn how to swim with the fishes and not be mad at his sister.

Even some of Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki-like magic can be found. It’s one part Spirited Away with a mysterious and overprotective goddess named Macha (several goddesses bear her name) and every part Mononoke Hime with the mysterious glowing lights and protecting the land motif. In a simpler level, Moore revealed he was more inspired by My Neighbour Totoro.

Video game enthusiasts may identify Ben to be like Link from the Legend of Zelda series. He has to save the Princess of the Sea (his sister). When she prematurely ages due to being chased by Macha, the only way to restore her is to bring her back to the waters that quite literally gave her life.

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This movie is a very heartwarming family film that everyone will get. When the colourful visuals kept me glued throughout, I was madly scribbling all the swirls and circular patterns on my notepad in hopes I will find reference to what they mean somewhere in my textbooks on mythology. I cannot wait to buy this video. I’m amazed that it has not been screened in Cartoon Saloon’s HQ of Ireland yet. It’s set for this coming July!

In North America, the video release is slated for March 17, 2015 by GKids, and I can not wait to start hitting the pause button so I can look for all the other symbology that’s hidden in the frames.

4½ Stars out of 5

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