Song of the Sea

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day — the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland — I thought it would be timely to draw your attention to a noteworthy recent Irish movie.

I have had a lifelong soft spot for animation, and the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon is one of the new highlights in the field. Its latest film, Song of the Sea, released last year, should please anyone with a sense of appreciation for artistry and fluid, vibrant animation. It tells a relatively simple story about two kids, one of whom turns out to be a selkie, mythical Irish seal creatures. Her mother was a selkie too, but one day she abandoned her husband, and now he’s determined to prevent his daughter from following her — so he packs his kids off to the city, far away from the desolate island they live, to keep her from reuniting with the white coat she needs to wear to complete the transformation. Along the way, there are fairies, nefarious owls, a befuddled old man in a cave, and a creepy witch. It’s a pleasant and entertaining story, and should entertain kids with patience and a love for fairy tales, but the main reason to go is to soak in Cartoon Saloon’s unique animation style and art, and to learn more about Irish folklore as reinterpreted for a modern era.

Cartoon Saloon’s earlier offering, The Secret of Kells, is also worth checking out if you like this. It’s set far back in the Early Middle Ages, when the studious monks of Kells compiled Ireland’s national treasure, the beautiful illuminated Biblical manuscript called the Book of Kells. The story, about a young apprentice monk and his quest for ink berries, is a lot simpler and less engaging than Song of the Sea, and the art isn’t as good, but it’s still a spellbinding experience with a lot of verve and style. If Cartoon Saloon continues on this roll, it might do more to stimulate renewed appreciation for Ireland, a country that has sometimes received a raw deal since its independence.


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