Ultimate Selkie: Thom Moore’s Song Of The Sea (2014) – home entertainment review
An instant classic, its immersive visual design an apt expression of its delicate fusion of childlike simplicity and thematic complexity.
Song Of The Sea
(Thom Moore, 2014)
Animation is amongst the most complex forms of filmmaking: a time-consuming process of creating worlds from scratch. Yet paradoxically it is also the mode most capable of mainlining direct to the audience’s emotions. Song Of The Sea captures this duality perfectly: it is staggeringly detailed – its rich thematic vein expressed in wondrously textured imagery – yet it also has the purity and simplicity of the Irish folklore it taps into.
Only Hayao Miyazaki has shown a similar affinity for such mythic storytelling, not as a backdrop for generic adventure but as the throbbing pulse behind every artistic choice. Thom Moore, who had already shown a love of his homeland’s tales in The Secret Of Kells, here brings ancient tales of selkies, of owl witches and of giants turned to stone into vibrant life: a kind of magic hyperrealism.
It starts with the visual style. Although the characters have a soft-edged accessibility, unusual angles make them feel somehow rough-hewn, chiselled like woodcuts – and the world around them has a tangible grain to match, a sensuality that mainstream CGI shuns in favour of airbrushed pop-art surfaces. It feels suitably Irish, not in the clichés of The Quiet Man but invoking a verdant, ancient landscape.
That suits a story in which traditions are under siege from the loneliness of modern progress. Nature is a place of joy here: at once a playground and a restorative balm, whereas the city is depicted as a prison, tense and brittle. Such dialectics are common – Miyazaki’s environmental fables, for starters – but Moore never overdoes the theme. It’s there on the margins of shots, in broken windows or casual references to burnt-out cars, while pylons resemble the owls who are the film’s soul-sucking antagonists, leeching emotions and symbolising cold, hard progress. That isn’t accidental: Moore uses uncanny symmetries to connect human characters with their fantastic counterparts, a crucible in which a nation’s psyche is being fought over.
The allegory is a potent one, a connection between old tales and a modern Ireland where folk deny the bittersweet sensation of emotion. Grief, especially, leads to despair and solitude – and, tellingly, Moore depicts that by showing the father stooped over a pint of Guinness in the pub. Cloistered and denied freedom of expression, even children are at loggerheads, silent and resentful… until the story casts its spell and sends brother and sister on a quest that is layered in meaning.
While the resulting story has its thrills, what’s startling is how meditative it is: Moore doesn’t require bombast because the richness of his method has such poise. If it’s possible for showboating to be unassuming, here it is. The subtexts swirl naturally through a complex image system of circles, variously symbols of hope and interconnectedness, or else warnings of doomed repetition. Only in animation could such a fusion of form and content be achieved, and it’s one of the finest achievements in the medium in years.
Song Of The Sea is released on digital HD on 2nd November and on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on 9th November.