I’m trying out a new title for this series, at least for the non-Disney films. I’m not in love with it, but I am a fan of alliterations. Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated.

Anyway, today I wanted to talk about the very un-Disney Irish animated film Song of the Sea. It was a bit of a struggle tracking the movie down, since it has not managed to find popularity in the US. Which is really disappointing–it is easily among the best films I’ve ever seen.

A few years back, we watched director Tomm Moore’s The Secret of the Kells on Netflix. This was before we had kids that were old enough to watch cartoons, so Amy and I had just stumbled upon it and decided to watch it. The Secret of the Kells was pretty good. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, and the plot is certainly interesting, but parts of it seemed to jump around a bit too much for me. Honestly, I can’t remember what my problem was with it, since I watched it so many years ago. I just remember liking it but not loving it.

Song of the Sea is a different creature entirely. The plot is elegantly told dualism of a modern Irish family dealing with the loss of the mother and the struggles of the younger sister, painted on the backdrop of Celtic legend.

Maybe I should give a longer plot summary than I normally do, since the title is obscure in this part of the world, and the plot is key to what it teaches children. Song of the Sea starts with a very Young Ben painting with his mother murals of fairy tales as she recounts the stories, focusing especially on the story of the selkies, women who can transform into seals. She is very pregnant, but the baby isn’t due yet.

Briefly touched upon trauma strikes, and the next thing we see is a much older Ben watching his mute sister Saoirse (a name both Amy and I have claimed if we ever have any more daughters, as unlikely as that looks right now). The dad makes an appearance, haggard and distraught, and the mom is nowhere to be seen.

The film follows the transformation of Ben as he overcomes his resentment to Saoirse and learns to care for her. He does this by discovering that his mom’s old Celtic tales are true, and that Saoirse is actually a selkie destined to save the faeries.

The animation is also fantastic

The animation is also fantastic

These kind of dualism stories are not unusual, but they typically told through a “portal,” where the character goes to another world and learns what he or she needs to grow in the real world. Song of the Sea is sort of like that, but done absolutely seamlessly. The real world is the fairy tale, but at the same time it’s not. The despairing Mac Lir of legend is his own creature, but at the same time he is their father. The two could stand side by side, even as they are one in the same. The evil Macha is the granny, but there was no transition from one to the other. To the casual observer, there’s just one world and one story.

My explanation does about as much justice as Superman in a drunken bar fight, so I apologize if none of that makes any sense. The key to this is that to my kids watching the film, they see Ben and Saoirse going on this grand adventure and coming out better people and closer siblings. To Amy and I, we see the story of a boy blaming his sister for this death of his mother, desperately trying to turn to an aloof father still in the troughs of grief.

This is what a fairy tale is supposed to be: teaching our kids difficult lessons through stories they can understand.

Even if they don’t quite get it. Even if they don’t understand why Amy and I are “ugly crying,” as Amy put it. It plants the seed.

What My Kids Said

Finley: “Turn it off for the scary parts.” He sat engrossed in the movie the whole time, but there’s definitely a few scary scenes to deal with.

Kella: “Let’s cuddle. Why are you crying?”