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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Into Something Rich and Strange
by Donald Levit

Out of nowhere, The Secret of Kells was nominated for an Oscar. Growing from thoughts during the making of that 2009 delight, Song of the Sea is cut from somewhat the same cloth but a “spiritual follow up rather than a sequel, exploring the culture I grew up in [for] as broad an audience as possible.” On this only his second feature, Tomm Moore works with the same composer Bruno Coulais and traditional music group Kila, art director collaborator Adrien Merigeau and his watercolor staff for refreshing hand-drawn 2D human non-machine animation, and the voice of Brendan Gleeson for two characters.

More personal in that set amidst childhood memories -- specifically Halloween night of 1987 -- the film does not let up for a single minute of its ninety-three and, in fact, though aimed first of all at children, is too busy, or frankly cluttered, for them. Grown-up children, too, will find problems in where exactly to focus visually and well as mentally, so that the advised approach is relaxed and emotional rather than strictly logical. (Additionally, as with any number of fairy tales and “cartoons,” susceptible real kids may be upset or frightened: witches and goblins, hungry wolves and winged monkeys, wicked stepmothers and Bambi’s mother’s death, Stromboli and Monstro, Chernobog, and Dumbo’s drunken nightmare.)

The story draws from Irish legend and folklore relating to seals as either souls of the drowned or as Seal People, Selkies, humans on dry land and white or brown seals when in the sea. It follows siblings Ben (voices of David Rawle and, when even younger, Kevin Swierszcz) and still-unspeaking six-year-old Saoirse (of Lucy O’Connell). Mother Bronagh having walked into the sea and disappeared while giving birth to the girl, they have been raised by grieving father Conor (of Gleeson), a lighthouse keeper on the rugged lonely west coast.

His only desired companion a shaggy sheepdog, Ben nastily big-brothers little sister, until “for their own good” they are bundled away to the paved city by unsympathetic Granny (of Fionnula Flanagan). Following the map Ben drew in her smoke-spewing automobile, the kids flee back towards home, encountering some few fellow humans and a welter of semi- and non-human creatures along the dangerous way. The good ones have been mostly turned into rounded stones, and some of those that are inimical are at the bidding of Macha (again Flanagan) and her harpy owls. She, however, is not so much evil as also grieving, for her son Mac Lir (Gleeson once more), a giant who cried buckets and was transformed into a forlorn forbidding island.

All is connected, however loosely, with seals off this coast, a pure white coat that had belonged to mother Bronagh but adjusts to a perfect fit for Saoirse when she changes into a seal followed by the pod. In depths of wells and the North Atlantic, chapels and caves, woods and even urban places, the land is permeated with magic, little people, transformations, Celtic twilight. The point is not that one understand as in sequential logic but, rather, that one believe and accept as in faith.

(Released by GKIDS and rated "PG" for some mild peril, language and pipe smoking throughout.)

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