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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Cameo: During one scene taking place on a bus, Aisling is one of the passengers.
  • Cute Mute: Saoirse. Until the end.
  • 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.
  • The Eeyore: Conor became this once Bronagh left.
  • The Eighties: Halloween 1987 to be exact.
  • 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.
  • 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 pelt 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Seal Child.
  • Like Parent, Like Child: Saoirse looks like and takes after her selkie mother Bronagh, and Ben looks like and takes after his human father Conor.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: As the synopsis and the conceptual trailer would suggest, selkies will be among the different magical beings in the movie. Bronagh, Ben and Saoirse's mother, is a selkie, and Saoirse herself is apparently one as well.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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. But when she 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...?"
  • 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.