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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Song of the Sea is a beautifully hand-drawn animated adventure about Irish myths and legends, predominantly selkies -- creatures that live as humans on land and seals in the water. While Song of the Sea is less intense than the director's previous film, The Secret of Kells, it can still be intense and heartbreaking at times -- like when it seems the kids might not survive, that Ben will drown, or Saoirse will succumb to her mysterious illness. It's implied that their mother dies early in the film (right after baby Saoirse is born), and the Macha and her owls can be creepy and scary, particularly when they go after the kids. But in the end this is a powerful movie about the importance of sibling relationships, about accepting everything you feel (no matter how sad or scary), about literally and figuratively finding your voice, and about doing everything possible to protect the people you love.
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What's the story?
In the beginning of SONG OF THE SEA, a pregnant mother (voiced by Lisa Hannigan) paints selkies (mythical creatures that are humans on land and seals in the water) on a nursery wall with her young son, Ben; tucks him in; and tells him he's going to be the best big brother ever. That very night, Mum gives birth to a baby girl -- named Saoirse -- but it's implied that she lost her own life doing so. The next scene is exactly six years later: Ben (David Rawle) talks to his beloved dog, Cu, about his mum's fairy stories, and Saoirse is a mute birthday girl who just wants her big brother's attention. Their father, lighthouse keeper Conor (voiced by Brendan Gleeson), is sad and distant, still lost in his own grief. When Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) arrives on the bittersweet birthday, she doesn't think the lighthouse is safe for the kids. That night, Saoirse plays a shell that used to belong to her mother and releases little fairy lights that lead her to a hidden treasure -- a brilliant white coat that propels her to the sea below. With the coat on, Saoirse becomes a seal when she goes underwater. After swimming with the other seals, Saoirse washes ashore back in human form, spent. Later, Conor angrily throws the coat in the sea, and Granny takes the kids back to the city to live with her. But Saoirse can't escape her selkie destiny, and with help from her big brother, she must travel back home to sing her song, or else she -- and all the other magical folk in Ireland -- are doomed.
Is it any good?
Director Tomm Moore clearly loves focusing on the myths and legends of his home country, and the results are simply gorgeous. Both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea beautifully depict what makes the Emerald Isle such a magical place. Selkies aren't as widely discussed as other mythical sea creatures (unlike mermaids, they're fully seals in the water), so this movie is an ideal way to introduce young kids to that legend, as well as the Macha (an ancient Irish goddess), and other aspect of Irish lore. And with its evocative, subdued palette, the hand-drawn animation is a refreshing change from the overly slick, computer-generated images that are so common in mainstream Hollywood family films.
But what really makes Song of the Sea such a winning and delightful film is its focus on the two siblings, the use of traditional music, and the stories within the story. Ben is the keeper of his mum's stories (all of which are true, we learn), and Saoirse is the keeper of the song that will set the fairy spirits free from their imprisonment. It may sound a bit complicated, but in the context of the movie, even young kids will understand what's going on and how the various stories interconnect. In the end, this is a lovely Irish film about a brother and sister, a girl who finds her voice, and the legacies parents leave behind for their children.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the kids' journey in Song of the Sea. Who helps them along the way? What do they need to be victorious? How do Ben and Saoirse compare to other siblings in family films? Why do you think sibling relationships are usually so contentious? What changes in Ben and Saoirse's relationship throughout the movie? Are they role models? Do you think Saoirse makes the right choice in the end?
What is the movie saying about strong feelings? Are they something that should be repressed or embraced? What does Macha learn in the end?
Kids: Did this movie make you want to learn more about Irish/Celtic myths and legends? What other myths are you interested in seeing depicted in a movie?
How is this movie different from mainstream Hollywood animated films? Is it just the style, or are there other things that set it apart?
- In theaters: December 19, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 17, 2015
- Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle
- Director: Tomm Moore
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Fairy Tales
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild peril, language and pipe smoking images
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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