Western Animation / Song of the Sea

Between the here, between the now...

"This is an ancient shell that my mother gave me a long time ago.
Hold it to your ear and listen carefully. You'll hear the song of the sea."

Song of the Sea is the second film from Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore, the creators of The Secret of Kells. It was released on December 19, 2014, and it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2015 Academy Awards.

In 1981, tragedy struck an Irish family when a woman, Bronagh, vanished on a dark, stormy night, leaving behind her husband, Conor, her 4-year-old son, Ben, and the family dog, Cú, along with her newborn daughter, Saoirse. Six years have passed since then; Conor is still grieving and Ben harbors resentment towards his younger sister, silently blaming her for their mother's disappearance. Their Granny, who worries that Ben and Saoirse aren't safe living on an island far from the mainland, resorts to taking her grandkids to live with her in the city, while their father and dog remain at the isolated lighthouse Conor operates.

Refusing to be without Cú, Ben plots to escape the city that Halloween night and get back to the lighthouse with Saoirse in tow. However, the night before the move there was a revelation: quiet little Saoirse is in fact a selkie (a mythological humanoid who is capable of shapeshifting into a seal when making contact with a large body of water). So now, brother and sister must work together, not just to get back home, but also to rescue a dying world filled with beings that Ben knows about only from his mother's stories. But he needs to overcome his darkest fears and she needs to find her voice (metaphorically and literally).

See the official teaser here.

Fortunately, it has its own production blog here. It also has its own Facebook page.

Has nothing to do with Gordon Quid's "Song of the Sea". Thankfully.

Character tropes go on to the Characters Sheet.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Saoirse and Ben bring a lot of this to their father and grandparent:
    • For Conor, he lost his wife when she went into the sea to have their baby and fears losing his little Saoirse the same way, so he tosses her coat into the ocean and sends the children to live with his mother, in the hopes of keeping them safe. His guilt only multiplies tenfold when the children return, with Saoirse deathly ill, and Ben revealing that throwing away the coat made his little girl sick. Conor's in denial, trying to get Saoirse to a hospital, but then he realizes Ben is right when the latter nearly drowns retrieving the coat. Conor needs a hug.
    • When Granny finds her six year old granddaughter washed up on the beach unconscious.
    • The moment when Granny wakes up and realizes that the kids are gone. She proceeds to speed in her car towards the lighthouse.
    • Ben trying to find Saoirse when Macha has captured the latter. His fear on seeing Saoirse shivering, her hair bleached and partially turned to stone is heartbreaking.
  • Aerith and Bob: For starters, the two main characters are named Saoirse and Ben. And their parents are named Bronagh and Conor. Again, that's Ireland for you.
    • This actually can be viewed as a functional distinction in the story. If you look are just looking at these family names, Bronagh and Saoirse are selkies, whereas Ben and Conor are human. The hair colors also set them apart.
  • And You Were There: A few magical beings the children encounter share designs and voice actors with people in their everyday lives. These similarities help to highlight the themes, flaws, and lessons each counterpart needs to learn. Specific examples:
    • Granny and Macha are both meddlesome elderly women who play antagonistic roles in the story but are actually both well-intentioned Anti-Villains who want to help their loved ones. Meanwhile, Conor and Mac Lir are both large bearded men who are mourning a lost family member. They are also the sons of Granny and Macha, respectively. The difference is that whereas Macha's concern for her child eventually led her over the edge into becoming a monster and Mac Lir couldn't let go of his sadness even if it meant destroying everything, Granny and Conor are both able to get over their problems.
    • The ferryman and the Great Seanachai are both eccentric old men with a long beard.
  • Big Brother Instinct: It's buried deep under years of blame and resentment, but Ben learns to tap into it.
  • Big Brother Worship: Despite the above, Saoirse clearly idolizes Ben. When she starts speaking for the first time, his name is her first word.
  • Bilingual Bonus The standing stones in the roundabout spell out the names of the three daoine sídhe in the roundabout in Ogham, an ancient alphabet. Mossi (y), Lug and Spud.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Saoirse is saved, her song is able to send the Fair Folk home, and Ben has grown to truly love her, but Bronagh is now gone from the human world forever and Saoirse can only stay behind by sacrificing her selkie side.
  • Blush Sticker: Ben and Saoirse have prominent ones.
  • Body Horror: It's easy to miss because of the simple art style, but Macha has half her body turned to stone from siphoning her own emotions and putting them in jars.
  • Book-Ends: The film begins with Saoirse's birthday (her actual birth in the prologue, and her sixth in the main plot). The ending also features a birthday, but this time it's Ben's. There's also smashing one sibling's face into the cake. This time, at the end, it's a good-natured smash.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Saoirse at the end, when Bronagh takes her selkie coat, allowing her to remain with Conor, Ben, and Cù, while the rest of the Fair Folk return to Tír na nÓg.
  • The Cameo: During a scene that takes place on a bus, Aisling is one of the passengers.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Bronagh was never said to have died, so her reappearance was almost inevitable.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ben's memory of the songs and stories his mother teaches him allows him to help Saoirse play the shell flute to break Macha's jars, and later to sing the song that restores her health and save the fairy creatures.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The end credits show animated storyboards.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Bronagh's disappearance/death; specifically, it turned Conor into a depressed alcoholic, and Ben into a Jerkass Big Brother Bully.
  • Death by Childbirth: Played with. It's only when Ben revisits the night of his sister's birth in a flashback that we learn what really happened to Bronagh.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The conceptual trailer and official art show Bronagh without shoes.
  • Door Dumb: At one point Ben and Saoirse have to get beyond a metal gate. Ben starts climbing the gate, while Saoirse ... just opens it.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Dad visits the pub on Saoirse's birthday because it reminded him of his wife's disappearance six years ago.
  • End of an Age: Saoirse's song calls all the Irish fae to depart for Tír na nÓg, and she gives up her selkie heritage to remain with Conor and Ben.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Played with; the second to last scene has everyone laughing during Ben's birthday, but the final scene shows Ben and Saoirse swimming together with the seals.
  • Eye Cam: Used when Ben goes to sleep early on.
  • Face Your Fears: A subtle example. Ben developed a fear of water and wears a life-jacket (even on dry land) throughout most of the film. He finally lets go of his fear during the climax, where he removes his life-jacket to find Saoirse's seal skin underwater.
  • The Fair Folk: All over the place; other names for them are mentioned, too, such as "Good Neighbors," "The Other Crowd," "Daoine Sídhe," "Fairies," "The Sídhe." We Have Many Names indeed...
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Saoirse dons her seal skin and enters the water, she starts mimicking the seal's squealing and we clearly hear a tiny voice trying to escape.
    • When Saoirse is following the glowing particles up the lighthouse staircase after blowing on the shell, her shadow appears to be that of a seal rather than a human.
    • The three fairies that collect Saoirse tries to remember a song verse, only to have Ben, hidden behind a stone statute, remind them of it. They are clearly unaware that Ben is around and assume that the stones were speaking. This could be passed off as Rule of Funny obliviousness, until you realize that these stone statutes were their fairy comrades, transformed by Macha's owls.
    • The opening of the film has Bronagh recite from the poem "The Stolen Child" by William Butler Yeats, which is about a group of fairies luring a human child to their world under the impression that they're sparing the child from suffering. This is much like how Macha believes that stealing emotions from human children and fairies alike will take away their suffering.
    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
  • Gender Equals Breed: Saoirse is a selkie like her mother, while Ben is a human like his father.
  • Genre Savvy: Zig-zagged. Conor, knowing about selkies, hid Saoirse's seal coat in a locked chest and threw it into the sea so that he wouldn't lose his daughter the same way he lost Bronagh. But he probably didn't figure that his actions would make Saoirse's health deteriorate later on.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: To Americans - the door of the fairies' lair has a message saying "FEIC OFF", which sounds like it's just shy of extreme rudeness. But to native Irish, "feic" or "feck" is a common and nearly harmless phrase, analogous to "fuck" as "darn" is to "damn."
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It rains when Ben and Saoirse are taken away from their beloved island by Granny.
  • Happily Married: Conor with Bronagh before her disappearance.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Ben on seeing what really happened the night his mother died and Saoirse wasn't to blame.
    • Once the feelings Macha has been quite literally bottling up for centuries are released, the witch finally sees how wrong her idea of "helping" is.
    Macha: (crying) I have been so lost for so long. Please, forgive me.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In-Universe. Macha laments how the old myths and legends paint her as a vile witch who steals emotions For the Evulz, as well as Offing the Offspring in regards to Mac Lir. In truth, the latter story fails to mention how she stole her son's emotions because she couldn't bear to see him in such pain, while the theft of other fairies' emotions stems from her belief that she's helping them, not out of pure malice. She's still doing wrong, but she at least has a somewhat logical argument to justify it all. Of course, she sees how wrong she's been after getting her own emotions back.
  • Hope Spot: At one point, Conor slides his drink away, assuming he plans to try to keep his family together, until Granny thought Saoirse nearly drowned.
  • Human Dad Non Human Mom: Ben and Saoirse's father Conor is human, but their mother Bronagh is a selkie.
  • I Choose to Stay: Saoirse, at the end. While she was never a bad sport about it, her choice is still poignant since she never seemed to fit in with the human world, her brother was always mean to her, and even her father was very distant.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: How Macha felt when seizing her son's emotions and turning him to stone as a means to take away his suffering. Notably, it may have been also that Mac Lir's grief was drowning the world and her intervention did help matters at the time.
  • Ironic Echo: "Stubborn boy." When someone says that for the first time, it's Granny referring to how Ben is (loudly) refusing to leave the lighthouse. When it's said again by Macha, it's because he's not letting her get any closer to Saoirse.
  • I Will Find You: Ben promises to come back for Cú. And he does, though they meet half-way.
  • Kick the Dog: In a moment of petty spite, Ben pushes Saoirse face-first into her birthday cake, just as Granny's camera takes a photo. Conor sends him to his room. Later that night, Saoirse silently asks him to tell her one of their mother's stories, and Ben proceeds to scare her with the story of Macha, going so far as to say that if the Owl Witch were to steal Conor's emotions, nobody would love her (the implication being that Ben doesn't love his sister). Ben then tops it off by dressing up as Macha and scaring Saoirse into her bed. He ultimately sees he went too far but is too prideful to apologize.
  • Land of Faerie: Implied to be where the Fair Folk go in the end. Pretty much confirmed since the lyrics of the three Daoine Sídhe in the roundabout say that 'Manannán will lead and Tír na nÓg will follow' when the Selkie sings the Song of the Sea. This counts as a Genius Bonus since the full name of the sea giant is Manannán mac Lir (he's only called Mac Lir in-movie) and Tír na nÓg is literally the Land of Faerie "across the sea".
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to The Secret of Kells, mainly due to the lack of Viking pillaging. The film still has some emotionally heavy moments, though.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Saoirse looks like and takes after her selkie mother, Bronagh. Ben looks like Conor, but inherits his mother's talent for drawing.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Saoirse's hair starts to turn white to show how a long time without wearing her coat is taking a toll on her body. Bronagh, in the beginning, also got some white hair to show how bad her pregnancy really was for her.
  • The Magic Goes Away: The singing of selkies is really important for the magical beings. However, given the fact that there aren't a lot of selkies, this trope kind of becomes a given.
    • A literal case at the end. It turns out the singing of the selkie is needed to send all magical beings home. Which is exactly what Saoirse does.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child: Ben certainly does. He learns better by the end.
  • Meaningful Name: Several names are derived from Irish Gaelic; the mother's name, Bronagh, roughly means "sorrow" and Saoirse means "freedom". And then there's Cú, Ben and Saoirse's dog, whose name literally means "dog" or "hound".
  • Missing Mom: Bronagh disappeared the night she gave birth to Saoirse. Ben misses her much.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The Mac Lir rock near Conor's lighthouse.
  • Morality Chain: Cú is almost a literal one for Ben, at least at first. While not a bad kid, he clearly resents his little sister for the disappearance of their mom and the attention she gets from their father, and so often bullies or neglects her. Cú has to bark insistently, and sometimes physically drag him by the leash, to get Ben to do the right thing.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Macha, after her emotions are restored. She is forced to confront the fact that she wasn't actually helping anyone by stealing their emotions, and almost cost Saoirse her life by stealing what little time she had to get to her coat.
    • Conor has one after losing his temper with Ben, driving his son to tears.
    • Ben has a minor instance of this when he frightens Saoirse with the story of Macha and sees that he went too far. He's too prideful to apologize, but he assures her it's only a story.
    • Ben has this reaction when he's in the cave and sees what really happened to Bronagh on the night Saoirse was born. He's barely holding back his tears by the time the flashback ends, realizing how wrong it was for him to blame his sister for what happened.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Granny somehow senses while she's asleep that Saoirse is outside in the water. Near the end, she also senses that her grandchildren are back at the lighthouse.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Saoirse going out for a midnight swim with the seals to test out her power, and not getting back into the lighthouse before Granny realizes, leads to Conor tossing away her coat and sending her and Ben to live with Granny. This starts a chain of events that leads to Saoirse's health declining.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Conor and Granny have this attitude towards Ben. Even when Saoirse is on the precipice of death, Conor refuses to believe Ben's insistence that she needs her seal coat, though this has more to do with Conor's fear that he could lose Saoirse to the sea as he did Bronagh and he wants to get his Ill Girl to a hospital.
  • Off-Model: While the movie as a whole is beautifully animated, there is one short bit after Macha regains her emotions, while she's telling Ben that she'll help them get home, that is noticably choppy and low framerate compared to everything else.
  • Ominous Owl: Macha the witch's overall motif; she's closely associated with owls, and the stories about her cast her as an evil witch who turns people to stone. However, it turns out that she's not so ominous once she realizes the consequences of her actions.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: At the end of the film, when Saoirse sings, rather than the fae turned to stone by Macha returning to their natural state, what appear to be their souls are drawn out, leaving their still-petrified bodies behind.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Selkie are a type of marine fae who transform from seals into humans.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Justified in that the childbirth was going wrong and Bronagh had to quickly assume selkie form to give birth. Toward the end, her spirit bids her family farewell as she has to return to the homeworld.
    • A passive one in the case of Conor, who loses faith in his parenting abilities and allows Granny to take his children.
  • Parental Favoritism: Ever since Bronagh left, it's apparent that Conor pays more attention to Saoirse than he does Ben. This inevitably makes his relationship with Ben grow increasingly distant.
  • Parents as People: Though distant, Conor does try to lavish Saoirse with attention and still loves Ben. However, he starts to believe in his inadequacies as a father and lets his mother take his children away.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Saoirse after blowing the shell flute to break Macha's emotion jars. The shell flute breaks, and Saoirse falls into semi-consciousness.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Upon meeting Macha, Ben, though intimidated, immediately reaches out to her and begs her for help, understanding that Macha is a victim of her own doing.
  • Scenery Porn: The Irish countryside looks great, as do all the places where the fey folk live. Quite a bit of Ghibli Hills, too.
  • Secret Keeper: Conor knew (maybe even before Ben was born) that Bronagh is a selkie. Ben realized this. Granny may or may not know, which would explain how she senses her kids are in danger.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: Bronagh, Ben and Saoirse's mother, is a selkie, and Saoirse herself is one as well. Conor hid Saoise's seal coat so she wouldn't leave him like Bronagh did, but this leaves Saoirse unable to speak, as well as making her health worse the longer she's without it.
  • The Shadow Knows: As Saoirse climbs the stairs towards discovering her coat, her shadow is that of her selkie form.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The opening lines of the film, said by Bronagh, are directly quoted from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Stolen Child".
    • The scene where Ben and Saoirse ride Cú's back accompanied by Mac Lir's hounds to get home is meant to reference the Cat Bus ride in My Neighbor Totoro.
    • Similarly, being a fat, squat witch with a gigantic head who grows angrier and angrier at the child protagonist who has invaded her house, Macha shares a great deal with Yubaba. And, after being revealed as having been Good All Along and helping the protagonist by providing them with the ability to quickly arrive where they must, Zeniba.
    • At Granny's house, when Saoirse passes by Conor's old room, The Rolling Stones' famous logo can be seen on the door as well as The Who's. Later, we can see that there are several posters in the room that reference other famous musicians of the time.
  • Sleeping Single: A unique, platonic case is subtly presented between Ben and Saoirse. The siblings' room has bunk beds, but because of his resentment of Saoirse, Ben elects to sleep in his own bed, which is covered by a drap for good measure.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Secret of Kells. Since the MacGuffin and an immortal character from The Secret of Kells are hidden in the movie, this movie could be a Stealth Sequel to it.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Bronagh and Conor; tragically so, as he remains in the human world while she eventually returns to the fairy world. But that's how selkie/human relationships tend to go...
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Ben when navigating back to the lighthouse tries to take the bus after the fairies tell him that Saoirse needs her coat. Saoirse proceeds to force him to exit it, leaving them forced to walk the way back. On the other hand, this allows him and Saoirse to reunite with Cú and convince Macha to have a Heel Realization.
  • Stop Drowning and Stand Up: At the beginning of the film, Ben gets pulled into the sea by Cú, and is too busy panicking to notice that the tide is barely over the knee of his little sister.
  • Suddenly Voiced: After spending nearly the whole movie mute, Saoirse gets her selkie coat back, which restores her to full health so she can sing her song and finally start talking.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Ben is a rare justified example that isn't Played for Laughs. Sure, he'll flounder pathetically in knee-high seawater, but he's also traumatized from losing his mother to the ocean.
    • Inverted later on when he still manages to sink to the bottom of a Holy Well, and the bottom of the sea, and resurface after running out of breath to no ill effect. Granted, both cases involved magic and surrealism.
  • Sweet Seal: Saoirse is an adorable little girl who is a selkie, and thus can shapeshift into an equally adorable little seal. She is friends with some actual, non-shapeshifting seals who are almost as cute as her.
  • Taken for Granite: What happens to the Fair Folk when they're deprived of their emotions by Macha.
  • Time Skip: The movie starts with Ben being 4-years-old with his mom in 1981. Then it jumps to 1987, when he's now 10 and Saoirse is 6. Then there's another skip at the end to Ben's 11th birthday.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Bronagh, big time.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The shell flute is this for Ben as it was given to him by his mom shortly before she vanished. It breaks when Saoirse uses it to give Macha her emotions back. Oddly enough, nobody brings up the fact that it broke.
  • Traitor Shot: Ben's facial expression before dunking Saoirse's face into the cake.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: When Ben revisits the memory of the fateful night of Saoirse's birth and his mother's disappearance.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Conor and Granny in agreeing to have the children live with Granny on the mainland inadvertently leads to Saoirse nearly dying. Conor also threw away her coat on seeing that she used it.
    • As Macha lampshades, by turning Saoirse to stone she wasted the little time that the girl had, and makes up for it by sending her son's dogs to guide Saoirse, Ben and Cú back to the lighthouse.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: Played for Drama. Conor tosses away Saoirse's selkie coat because he doesn't want to lose her the way he lost Bronagh.
  • Wham Line: After spending the majority of the movie as a Cute Mute, Saoirse finally gets her coat back moments before she's about to die, leading to this. Notable in that being reunited with her selkie coat not only saved her life, but also gave her her voice.
    Saoirse: "... Ben...?"
  • Wham Shot: The image of the white seal at the ending.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last scene shows the family after a Time Skip of a few weeks or months, with Ben and Saoirse living happily together with dad and granny on the island.
  • White and Grey Morality: There are no outright evil characters in the film, not even Macha.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ben is terrified of the water, since his father warned him the ocean was dangerous nearly all his life.(which he, in turn, said only because his wife disappeared into it). Too bad for Ben, since his sister is a selkie, and so open water is a de facto part of their journey.
  • Will-o'-Wisp: Whenever Saoirse plays the shell flute, little magic lights resembling fireflies start to appear. Unlike the Will-O-Wisp, however, the lights are benevolent and actually guide the kids to the places they need to be.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: No matter how much she wants to reside in the human world, Bronagh (or at least her ghost) is bound to the fairy world, so when the portal opens up, she has to depart. This would have been the case with Saoirse, but luckily because of her human heritage Bronagh is able to take her seal skin so Saoirse can continue to reside with her family.