Traditional hand-drawn animation is still around thanks to Irish director Tom Moore and his Cartoon Saloon concern. Both of their first two full-length features The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Like its predecessor, Song of the Sea takes much of its inspiration from folklore as well as keeping 2D animation as up to date as possible. The plot revolves around 2 siblings trying to find their way home, only to encounter a legendary Witch and overcome their fears for their own good.
At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben, a young Irish boy who lives with his parents Conor and Bronagh in a Lighthouse on a small island. Bronagh is expecting her 2nd child and Ben is anticipating becoming a big brother. However, Bronagh mysteriously disappears while giving birth.
Six years later, Conor has become depressed and favors his mute daughter Saoirse (pronounced Sier-sha) over his son. Ben is bitter and distances himself from Saoirse but has developed a vast knowledge of local folklore thanks to their mother’s stories. The siblings’ only real friends are the family dog Cu and Dan the ferry-man as neither of them can stand their well-meaning but over-bearing paternal grandmother, who insists they will be safer living with her.
One night, Saoirse finds a mysterious coat that turns her into a seal, revealing her to be a selkie. When Saoirse is discovered with the coat, their father reluctantly allows their grandmother to take them to the City. Missing their father and Cu, Ben and Saoirse run away, intending to go home but Saoirse falls ill along the way and they are pursued by Macha the Owl Witch. Thus, Ben has to be brave and resourceful in order to confront Macha and save his sister.
It is often said that too many cooks spoil the broth but Song of the Sea actually benefits from the collaboration of film-makers from Ireland, France, Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg as well as taking inspiration from classic Disney movies and Studio Ghibli of Japan. The film is definitely Irish though, right down to its setting, the folklore references, even the cast which includes Brendon Gleeson, Fionnula Flannagan, Lisa Hannigan and David Rawle. It is clear that as long as people like Tom Moore continue to create masterpieces like this, there will always be a place for hand-drawn animation.