I got criticized last month for having too many offensive films that I've reviewed. That was not a choice then; this is not a choice now. I have been reviewing green colored movies time and again. This one is PG and that's pretty accurate. I was weirded out how well Henry took this one because there's some creepy owls in the movie. There are visually haunting moments and the little girl in the movie seems like she is dying for a lot of it. But besides that, it is a fairly tame movie. PG.
DIRECTOR: Tomm Moore
I have a cup of tea ready for me right now. I'm remarkably sleepy and have lots of distractions in front of me. But I should review. Once I get writing, things tend to work out fairly well. I clear out some cobwebs. I feel productive. So this is going to happen. I actually have a happy-accident story behind this one. We had too many library books at home. Our library pile was overflowing and they were all due back. I was planning on just dumping them in the book return and speeding out of there, but Henry really wanted to go inside. I know he wants movies, so I let him get a few. He normally gets crap, but this was in his small pile that he grabbed. (The other stuff was still crap.) Ever since I saw The Breadwinner, I wanted to see the other movies that were from the same studio and production team. While I absolutely adore The Breadwinner as one of the best animated films I've ever seen, this movie is pretty darned solid as well.
I know that I'm going to be blasphemous again when I say that I'm not that into Celtic mythology. I'm not into mythology as is. This is odd, considering that I just wrote a really long essay about mythologies influence over Neil Gaiman's Sandman. But I really just never got on board with Celtic Mythology. Norse stuff I kind of like. Greek stuff is fine, I guess. The Celtic stuff, the only thing I really know is the story of the selkie. Good news for me, I guess, because that's what The Song of the Sea is all about. My wife cried pretty hard at the end of this movie. I can see why. I mean, I got nowhere close. I'm that toxicly masculine, I suppose. But there's a lot going on here. Fundamentally, the story is about family and what it means to love one another. There's a heavy theme of mortality running through this story. I lost my dad when I was a kid, so I tend to gravitate to these stories. Unfortunately, this also means that the story really has to be aces to get me to break down. I will say that there are levels going on here. I don't know why kids' movies feel like they have to be the first group to conquer mortality for kids. I mean, Bambi did a pretty good job. But these stories are all about parental trauma at a young age. I guess the Jungian archetype of the orphan automatically gives us a sense of sympathy towards these characters. I suppose Ben and Saoirse are artificial orphans, sent away from their fathers. Okay, I keep going back and forth about whether I should do SPOILERS, but I'm just going to go deep into spoilers because I need to explore some stuff. Ben and Saoirse's mother dies early in the movie. In fact, she dies giving birth to Saoirse. Automatically, the dynamic between Ben and Saoirse is skewed because Ben sees Saoirse as the cause of his mother's death. That's actually an interesting dynamic for the two characters because Ben is a full on jerk to Saoirse. At its roots, it's about the two learning to bond, which is extremely difficult because Saoirse doesn't speak. She's a selkie, which is only explained after we see her turn into a seal. (I told you that there would be spoilers.) But the movie teases something a little unfair about mortality, especially from the point of view of a viewer who actually lost a parent at a young age: Ben and Saoirse get to see their mother again very briefly. This is the part that destroyed Lauren.
That's not how that works. There are so many times that I just want to see my dad, even for a second. I know that it would destroy me, but it doesn't mean I want it any less. Presenting this in a story about mortality might be a bit misleading for kids. Mom returns for an instant. Yes, Mom makes the right choice. (Although Lauren yelled at the TV, "Just stay! Why don't you stay?" amidst tears. She's a selkie through and through. She literally can't. But I get what she is saying.) This story is so heavy with the dead-mom overtones that this moment, while functional narratively, is completely unfair. But why am I letting The Lion King off the hook then. Or Star Wars? It just seems really rough. I see these two kids who learn to love each other over the course of an hour-and-a-half movie. They have become their family that they couldn't have before. I don't mind watching from above or from the distance, but to have Saoirse make a choice between her life on land and the sea, while emotional as crap, almost depreciates Mom's value. Again, Mom makes the right choice. But even presenting that option is unfair. In a weird way, Mom becomes the villain of the piece. (After all, the previous antagonist sees the folly of her ways and repents to help the protagonists.) I know. This is only a moment and I'm probably putting my own hangups over the whole story. But I do like the story about a boy and his sister. Saoirse is genuinely worthy of sympathy. We've seen the Scrooged Tiny Tim, right? Calvin? Anyway, I have such pity for the nonverbal. Saoirse, in this case, is remarkably happy. She is a lovable character and the idea that she is the center of this confluence of mythology is just perfect. It's actually Ben who comes across as annoying. Tomm Moore isn't doing this by accident. Ben is a punk and he really toes the line of being truly obnoxious. I have to credit Moore for smoothing out some of those rough edges on Ben though. Ben reminds us that he's just a kid who likes what he likes quite often. His knowledge of the songs, possibly, might be the thing that sells him as a character. It's the same thing we saw with Lex in Jurassic Park. Her knowledge of the UNIX system completely redeems her character. Ben has the same thing. He's a horrible kid who is just a bully, but then he does these wonderful things to remind us that he's just a kid.
I can't believe I've held off this long when it comes to talking about how pretty this movie is. I know the visual look from teasers, but this is a gorgeous movie. Again, this is coming from a guy who doesn't give a lark about Celtic mythology, the beauty of this movie does inspire me to like it. There's something ancient and modern at the same time. Moore makes these beautiful comparisons with his antagonists and the people in Ben's life. The look of these characters in both human form and their mythical forms are so cool. It's not very subtle with the choices, but that's great. (I admit, it took me a few characters in to figure out what he was doing with the character designs.) The grandmother owl is perhaps the most compelling looking characters. I mentioned in the MPAA part that the owls are terrifying. They are, but they are super cool as well. (It doesn't hurt that their motivations are actually somewhat compelling. Being free of pain isn't the worst idea in the world and the movie sells this in spades. But the look of the characters is only one element to this visual feast (I hate myself). There is something ancient and important about the entire mise en scene. It's not just the setting. That is awesome. But the way that the movie plays with the mythical elements of normality is inspiring. Like, the movie is very trippy. Moore had to communicate to his team a very weird idea. I'm sure that there were drawings and reference points. He probably had books upon books about stylistic / historic references and the movie was built around that. But there are runes and mysticism everywhere. I looks genuinely awesome. Yet, the movie never feels too removed from what we consider reality. The movie is technically a fantasy story, but it treats us as negligent for not noticing the magic in the normal. That's the best. There are times in the story that Ben and Saoirse explore the underworld and that is when the movie becomes full on fantasy. But this underworld is a stone's throw away from the mundane city. There are statues everywhere and it gives Ireland this ethereal quality. I've been to Ireland. It's great. I still want the Song of the Sea version of Ireland.
I enjoyed this movie more than most of the stuff I watch with my kids, but I was really hoping for The Breadwinner. I know. The Breadwinner is great because it deals with heavy themes and I know that I couldn't watch it with my kids. But this movie really holds its own. If I hadn't seen The Breadwinner previously, I would probably be gushing about this one a lot more. Regardless, a good watch.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.