A lot of eyebrows raised last month when “The Lego Movie” failed to make the short list of films nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. It’s hard to find an animated movie from 2014 that had more of an impact, but somehow the celebrated homage didn’t make the cut.
So it might be good news that as of this weekend, local moviegoers can get a look at one of the films that beat out “Lego Movie.” “Song of the Sea,” a stylish fairy tale about a mythic race of women who have the ability to turn into seals, will be screened at the Broadway Centre Cinema starting Friday.
Directed by Tomm Moore, “Song of the Sea” draws from Scottish and Irish legend to create a story about the struggles of a small family. During a brief prologue, Conor (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) and his wife Bronach (Lisa Hannigan) are about to have their second child. Their first, Ben (David Rawle), is excited to meet his little sister.
Fast-forward six years, and life has taken a drastic downturn. Conor lives with his two children on an island outpost off the coast, manning a lonely lighthouse. Bronach is nowhere to be found. And at 6 years old, young Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) still hasn’t started speaking.
One night, Saoirse discovers a magical coat in her parents’ closet, which gives her the ability to swim in the ocean with a group of seals. It turns out that like her mother, Saoirse is part of a magical line of human females called Selkies. But when her visiting grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) finds her washed up on shore the next morning, she insists on taking Saoirse and Ben back to the mainland for their own safety.
Heartbroken and longing for their father and their island home, Ben and Saoirse soon slip out from Granny’s grasp and begin an epic journey back to the lighthouse. From here, “Song of the Sea” kicks into high magical gear with a variety of mythical creatures and locations that test the children's resolve and affections for each other.
Uninterested in today’s CGI advances or 3D presentation, “Song of the Sea” opts for a simple yet stylized animation that blends reality with impressionism. The effort leads to some impressive backdrops and other visuals, even if some renderings — such as a dangerous owl witch, also voiced by Flanagan — come off as a little hokey.
Moore maintains a steady pace, leaning hard on a more ethereal tone that only bumps up the pulse at key moments of action. It makes for a nice flow, but it also drags at times, and might not be the best to hold the attention of the young audience “Song of the Sea” is most appropriate for.
The finished product offers some nice visuals and a meaningful story about family, mixed with a lot of magical content that doesn’t always make perfect sense. It’s easy to understand the appeal “Song of the Sea” had for the Oscar people, but fans of more mainstream animation may still insist that the sharp, wise cracking “Lego Movie” got robbed.
It’s unfortunate that “Song of the Sea” may wind up being remembered more for what it isn’t. But for audiences looking for a family friendly piece of animation that eschews the mainstream, this film is a nice option.
“Song of the Sea” is rated PG for frightening moments and scenes of animated peril.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.