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 have to confront a legendary Witch in order to save each other.
At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben, a young Irish boy who lives with his parents Connor and Bronagh in a Lighthouse on a small island. Bronagh is heavily pregnant with her 2nd child and Ben is looking forward to becoming a big brother. However, Bronagh mysteriously disappears while giving birth.
Six years later, the family struggles to cope without Bronagh as Connor has become depressed and favors his mute daughter Saoirse (pronounced Sear-sha) over his son. A bitter and ignored Ben now fears water and takes his angst out on Saoirse. The siblings’ only friends are the family dog Cu and the local ferry-man. To make matters worse, Connor’s well-meaning but over-bearing mother insists the children will be safer living with her.
One night, Saoirse finds a white coat that turns her into a seal, revealing her to be a selkie. When Saoirse is discovered with the coat, Connor’s mother takes the kids to the City. Missing their father and Cu, Ben and Saoirse soon run away, intending to go home. Ben and Saoirse’s journey is impeded by their own disagreements and they are persued by the Owl Witch Macha who is after Saoirse. Soon enough, Ben has to deal with his sister becoming increasingly ill too.
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 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.