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Song of the Sea


Here’s a guest post, from my sister, Nikki Zyp.  You can read more from Nikki at

With two little ones I get to watch a lot of kid’s movies, but it’s not very often that any of them make it onto my favorite lists. However, “Song of the Sea” is easily one of my favorite movies from 2014. In addition to a really fantastic, well-written script, this movie has an incredible soundtrack. It is hauntingly beautiful and we often listen to it in the car or during homework. I also really, really loved the animation. It’s not a modern style, it doesn’t look sleek and shiny but it is familiar and comforting somehow.

This Irish tale is about a boy, Ben, who lives on a small island in Ireland with his dad, the lighthouse keeper, his mom, who is expecting, and his big fluffy dog, Cu. They seem to be a sweet, normal, happy family. But that all changes the night the baby is born. Ben’s mom mysteriously disappears, abandoning Ben and his newborn sister, Saoirse.

Fast forward six years and we see a heartbroken dad who is barely aware of his children’s existence. Ben has developed a deep fear of the sea (his mother disappeared in the ocean) and an intense resentment towards his little sister. He can barely tolerate her but because of his father’s distance, Ben is the primary caregiver for Saoirse. And then we have poor Saoirse who does not speak a word and has no inkling really of what she has lost.

Ben’s only remaining connection to his mother are the Irish myths she used to tell him and a seashell horn that belonged to her. Ben tells these stories to Saoirse, but not like his mother used to. He wants to punish and frighten her. On the night of Saoirse’s 6th birthday she finds Ben’s seashell horn and plays it. It magically leads her to a white coat, locked away in her father’s closet, and then to the sea. She puts the coat on, wades into the ocean and suddenly turns into a selkie. The animation of this scene is particularly beautiful.

Somehow Saoirse’s dip unleashes all that’s magical and really, this is when the fun of the movie begins. The plot weaves seamlessly between the real world and a delightful magical world based on the myths Ben’s mom told him. We meet evil owls, faeries that are slowly turning to stone, a sacred well, and a very odd old…um…wise man?…(for lack of a better word) with hair that contains all the memories of the world.

At the heart of all the action is a myth about the great giant, Mac Lir whose heart is broken. He cries so much that he creates an ocean of tears. His mother, Macha the Owl Witch, wants to bring an end to her son’s suffering, so she turns him to stone. She then vows to help all who are suffering, by taking away the “nasty, terrible things” they feel… of course that means they become stone but hey, stones don’t usually complain.

To rescue Saoirse, Ben must confront Macha but in doing so he realizes that she isn’t the evil witch he thought she was. She in turn recognizes his deep hurt and offers to take it all away from him so he won’t have to suffer anymore.

Through all these adventures Ben struggles with the magic and the emotion. He’s practical and responsible and keeps everything under control. It doesn’t make sense to believe in this insane magical world and yet somehow his little sister’s fate seems to be deeply entwined in it. Ben has to decide if he’s going to embrace this crazy world and all the emotion that comes along with it or if he will continue to harden himself in order to stop feelings all the “nasty, terrible things” and eventually become stone-like.

I won’t tell you how the movie ends because whether you have kids or not it really is worth watching. But I will tell you that I love the way this movie deals with hard emotions. Ben, his dad, the granny, even Macha, are all just trying to figure out how to handle all these strong, unruly “nasty, terrible things” called sadness, anger, confusion, longing, nostalgia, and loneliness. Some respond by allowing these emotions to overwhelm them. This leads to harming themselves and those they love. Others respond by trying to take all the suffering away, like Macha does. Unfortunately by locking all those feelings away they also remove what makes them real, as depicted in the film by slowly being turned to stone. Each one of us is Ben. We have to choose what we want to believe and do with all these hard emotions. Do we give them up or lock them away and become hard, like stone? Or do we do what’s really scary and face them, let them loose and see the magic and joy that’s mix with the sorrow?

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Posted in All Reviews, Guest Posts.

2 Responses

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  1. I remember when I saw it years ago… And I love it. Right now is one of my favourite animated movies.

  2. Further proof that traditional 2D animation is such a powerful way to tell a story. For myself, it will always be superior to 3D animation.

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