Western Animation: Song of the Sea

Keep listening…
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 corrupted a family when a mother, Bronagh, vanishes on a dark, stormy night, leaving behind her husband, Conor, her 4-year-old son, Ben, and the family dog, Cú, with her newborn daughter, Saoirse. 6 years have passed since then; Conor is still grieving and 10-year-old Ben harbors a resentment towards his now-6-year-old sister, silently blaming her for their mother's disappearance. Wanting the suffering to end, their Granny resorts to having her grandkids live with her in the city, leaving behind their father and dog at the lighthouse Conor operates.

Refusing to be without Cú, Ben plots to escape the city on a Halloween night and get back to the lighthouse with Saoirse following. However, the night before the moving showed 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 speaking).

See the conceptual trailer (which has been on YouTube since 2009) right here. And see the official teaser here. Now you can see the USA trailer 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.

Song of the Sea contains examples of these tropes:

  • The '80s: Halloween 1987 to be exact.
  • 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.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Conor (the father) becomes this to "cope" with the disappearance of Bronagh. Just like Macha, Conor also has a way to "make the pain go away" that involves "jars".
  • 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.
    • 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 ferryman and the Great Seanachai are both eccentric old men with a long beard.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: How Ben sees Saoirse.
  • Anti-Villain: Macha, who does what she does with the best possible intentions in mind. And is polite. Arguably the granny, if one can call her a villain at all.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Conor grows one after Bronagh vanishes.
  • Big Bad: Macha, a witch who steals the emotions of magical creatures, leaving them turned to stone, and who wants to capture Saoirse to keep her from singing her song. Somewhat subverted when it turns out she's more of a polite Well-Intentioned Extremist who thinks she's helping magical creatures by taking all their pain, grief, and worries away rather than acting out of malice.
  • Big Brother Bully: Ben to Saoirse, when he's not demanding she leave him alone or ignoring her entirely. He gets better.
  • 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 gets her voice back, his name is her first word.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Cú, Ben and Saoirse's dog.
  • 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.
  • Blinding Bangs: Cú has these. He's a sheepdog, and in real life it's pretty common for sheepdogs to have hair in their faces.
  • 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 one scene taking place on a bus, Aisling is one of the passengers.
  • Cute Mute: Saoirse. Until the end.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Bronagh's disappearance/death; specifically, it turned Conor into a depressed alcoholic, and Ben into a Jerkass Big Brother Bully.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Bronagh seems like she was the perfect wife and mother, making her disappearance all the more tragic for Conor and Ben.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The conceptual trailer and official art show Bronagh (the mother) without shoes.
  • A Dog Named Dog: "Cú" just means "dog".
  • The Dog Bites Back: Saoirse does this twice. First, she kicks Ben in the shin when the latter tries to forcefully take her back to Granny's, not wanting her to tag along as he prepares to walk back to their home. Secondly, she smashes his face into his birthday cake in the epilogue, as Ben had done to her in the beginning (though in her case, the action isn't mean-spirited).
  • The Eeyore: Conor became this once Bronagh left.
  • 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.
  • 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 trying to intimate the seal's squealing and we clearly hear a tiny voice trying to escape.
    • The three fairies that collect Saoirse tries to remember a song verse, only to have Ben, hidden behind a stone statute, remind it to them. They are clearly unaware that Ben is around and assume that the stones were speaking. This could be passed as a Rule of Funny obliviousness, until you realize that these stone statutes were their fairy comrades, transformed by Macha's owls.
    • The beginning of the film has Bronagh reciting 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 worldly 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 treasure 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."
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Saoirse, who is half-human, half-selkie (which are, in turn, half-human and half-seal). This becomes significant at the end, when Bronagh reveals that all her kind must go, but Saoirse is half human, so she can remove her selkie half and let her stay if she wants. Interestingly, Ben is technically also one since Bronagh is his mother too, but every magical being they encounter explicitly call him "human child." Then again this is also a movie where a Sea Giant's mother is an Owl Witch so who knows how sídhe genetics works?
  • Happily Married: Conor with Bronagh before her disappearance.
  • Hartman Hips: Bronagh, as seen here.
  • Heel Realization: Once the feelings Macha has literally been 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 emotional pain, while the theft of other fairies emotions stems from her belief that she's helping them, not out of pure malice. She still is 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 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 emotion 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.
  • Ill Girl: Saoirse's health starts to fade the longer she's without her coat.
  • 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 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 god 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"
  • Last of Her Kind: Saoirse is the last Selkie Child.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compares to The Secret of Kells, mainly due to the lack of Viking pillaging. The film still has some emotionally-heavy moments, though.
  • Like Parent, Like Child: Saoirse looks like and takes after her selkie mother Bronagh. Ben looks like Conor, but inherits his mother's talent for drawing.
  • The Lost Lenore: Bronagh is this to both Conor and Ben, though in the latter's case it's a loss of parental love rather than romantic love.
  • 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: The synopsis makes this trope pretty obvious.
  • 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 often 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 that she wasn't actually helping anyone by stealing their emotions, got to feel the emotions she bottled up for years all at once in addition to the emotions of all those she has hurt, 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.
  • 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 with Bronagh.
  • Ominous Owl: Macha the Owl 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's realized 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 appears 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 bades 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 with Ben. This inevitably makes his relationship with Ben grow increasingly more 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.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Bronagh has hair that reaches to the end of her back. The Great Seanchaí also gives other fictional hair a run for their money (Including Rapunzel's!).
  • Rousseau Was Right: Upon meeting Macha, Ben, though intimidated, immediately reaches out to her and begs her 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 before even 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 makes Saoirse unable to speak, as well as making her health worse the longer she's without it.
  • The '70s (overlaps with the end of The Sixties ): Conor's old Poster-Gallery Bedroom in Granny's house. The Who "target" emblem on the door, The Rolling Stones tongue poster and sticker on the door, record player, picture of what appears to be Frank Zappa, iconic posters of Farrah Fawcett, John Lennon, Woodstock and what appears to be a Frank Frazetta poster. You can tell when he grew up.
  • 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 along with Mac Lir's dogs to get home is meant to reference the Cat Bus ride scene in My Neighbor Totoro.
    • 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 at that time.
  • 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 in the end; tragically so, as he remains in the human world while she returns to the fairy world. But that's how selkie/human relationships tend to go...
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Or doing, since she can't talk; at one point Ben and Saoirse have to get beyond a metal gate. Ben starts climbing the gate, while Saoirse... Just opens it.
  • 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 losing his breath to no ill effects. Granted, both cases involved magic and surrealism.
  • Taken for Granite: What happens to the Fair Folk when they're deprived of their emotions by Macha.
  • 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.
  • The Silent Bob: Saoirse is this for most of the movie. Averted at the end when she's Suddenly Voiced after she sings her song.
  • The Unfavorite: Ben knows he is this to his father, and he deeply resents Saoirse for it.
  • 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.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: This happens to Ben once Bronagh gets out of the picture. Fortunately, this doesn't last and then he....
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Ben has this happen after experiencing some life-or-death situations with Saoirse.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The shell flute is this for Ben as it was given to him from his mom shortly before she vanished.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Ben used to be a good sport when Bronagh was still around, and he was even excited to have a new sibling. But when Bronagh left…see Took a Level in Jerkass.
  • 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.
  • 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 too dangerous all his life. (Which he, in turn, said only because his wife disappeared in it). Too bad for Ben his sister is a selkie, and so open water is de facto part of their journey.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The children's granny truly thinks she's helping by taking them away from their father and the country to live in the city (which is rife with pollution and urban decay). Likewise, the movie's Big Bad truly believes she's helping the magical beings of the world by stealing all their emotions, leaving them turned to stone. Since turbulent emotions bring pain and grief, she thinks she's easing their suffering.
  • 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 fairy world 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.