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Review: Song of the Sea

My child berated me the other day for not showing her enough Disney films when she was younger.

I said she could watch them now, as she is old enough for them not to have any adverse effects on her.

OK, that’s probably a bit unfair, and I don’t mind Disney films as much as I used to when I was an angry and idealistic (and slightly annoying) young person.  But it is weird to live in a world where Disney puts out any random tat and has it gross millions of dollars, while Song of the Sea, which is probably the best animated film I have ever seen, played to five people on the afternoon I saw it.

Song of the Sea is an Oscar nominated Irish animation about a boy called Ben who lives on an island in a lighthouse with his mum and dad.  One night his pregnant mum disappears, leaving behind a baby girl, who Ben and his father name Saoirse.  As Saoirse grows up, she becomes worryingly drawn to the sea, to the extent that Ben’s grandmother comes and takes the children away from the island because of the danger that she perceives.

Ben and Saoirse escape, and the rest of their film follows their journey back to the island.

There are so many things that make this a great film.  It looks and sounds beautiful.  It’s properly artistic in the sense that it draws out and emphasises with its visual and aural effects the most striking parts of each landscape – the wet bruised looking clouds, the confusion of the city, the winding of the country roads.  Isn’t that so much better than a Disney-fied world where everything is flat and bright and where even the faces follow a formula??

The story itself draws on a lot of tradition about Irish myths and stories, using them as a background.  Mythical characters people the narrative, but their actions and attitudes also parallel the lives of the “real” characters.  The interaction between the family members is very honest and humorously done – Ben’s attitude towards his sister is both loving and resentful, and there was a real core of sadness that didn’t flinch from the question of what you do if you love someone, but really don’t think that you can be with them.

It’s funny that I saw this in the same week that I read Niall Williams’s History of the Rain, which attempts to explore similar themes, of family, of myth, of Irish landscape – this is so much better!  Even the rain is better in this film – it’s not so constant, and therefore used to better contrasting effect.  About half way through the film, I was thinking, “OK, this is quite pretty, I’ve had a bit of a laugh, the kids are cute, now there’s just going to be a bit of a chase and a few spells towards the end,” and right at that moment, this unbelievably powerful emotional sequence unfurled across the screen, and it was really emotionally intense right until the end.

I don’t usually hold back with the tears during a film, but I had to towards the end this time because I would have been a bit embarrassing.

Children both seemed quite unaffected by it, though.  Afterwards, LD#1 said that it was good, but LD#2 said that she preferred the Moomins film.  I obviously have minority tastes.



  1. I’ve never been a big Disney fan. Probably 2 exceptions, The Sword in the Stone and Jungle Book. I supect there are many better films that pass unnoticed through lack of marketing power.

    • When I was a teenager I used to get really depressed and angry about good films/books/music being outmarketed by the bad. Then I sort of got over it but I’m beginning to swing back the other way. LD wants to see the Jungle Book – I’ll order it for her.

  2. When I saw the poster I wondered if it was a Miyazaki film! But it sounds quite lovely. I’ve not heard of it before and want to see it!

    • Miyazaki is notorious in our household because someone gave the girls Spirited Away as a present when they were little. I mean, it’s a PG, right? But the only thing they remember about it now was that it was absolutely terrifying. This one is less scary 🙂 but I do agree similarly appealing imagery.

  3. Oh wow just the poster looks wonderful. I will definitely try to find a way to watch this movie! I confess, I am a Disney movie-buff, but I have to agree – flat and bright pretty much describes them perfectly… I just saw the trailer on Youtube, and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it on my own, but the backgrounds really are lovely and detailed.

    • Yes, I actually went in not expecting much, even though it looks pretty. It’s funny sometimes it’s just a simple story with no gimmicks that is really effective.

  4. This film does look good but I was turned off because I thought it was going to be a tear-jerker and it sounds as though I was right! I don’t want to start balling my eyes out in a children’s movie again. How sad was it?

    • There’s no getting away from the fact it was very very sad. I did think it was interesting the way we can get more emotional about some things as we get older ie I don’t think kids would find it as sad.

  5. I hope I can find it over here. I am no fan of Disney, despite the fact that Ken and I like old-fashioned, mild stories, suitable for children, rather than the super-violent, bedroom-scene dominated flicks of today. So we tried to watch Spielberg’s War Horse.

    We did manage to get all the way through it, but Ken has raised and trained horses, and there was so much blatantly WRONG with the story, that when it was over, we concurred that it was perhaps the stupidest movie we had ever watched.

    I just managed to get my hands on Bone Clock. I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve finished it. Things have been crazy-busy here lately. My most recent blog-post (today’s response to Jenny Pellet’s 5-picture – 5 stories challenge) goes into some of the why things are crazy-busy.

    I’m going to request our library purchase this one!

    • Wow what was wrong with the story horse wise? I must be one of the few people who hasn’t seen War Horse but I am very interested in audience reaction to authenticity/inauthenticity.
      Hope you are well.

      • In 4/5 scenes, the horse, basically, didn’t behave like a horse, but rather like an actor, playing a fantasy-director’s version of a anthropomorphiised horse.

  6. I really like the sound of this film Denise, I know I would have enjoyed it very much, love stories like this, and yes, I do like some of the Disney films, to a point, but I get exactly what you mean 🙂

  7. Such a good review – am going to look out for this film now, had heard good things about it, but your post has totally confirmed everything. Agree 100% about the flat and bright world we often see in cartoons. Did you see “Inside Out” by any chance? I went with another grown up and we both felt that while it was good it could have been great if it had just dared to be a bit less ‘formulaic’…heigh ho…

    • My daughter went to see Inside Out, but I haven’t seen it yet. She agreed with your formulaic comment, but when she described the scene with the imaginary friend, that sounded so sad! She said it made her cry and cry.

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