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Western Animation / Song of the Sea

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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, and is the second in their Irish folklore trilogy encompassing Kells and Wolfwalkers. 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 harbours 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. A DVD of the movie with the Irish dub can be bought on Cartoon Saloon's online store here.

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

Song of the Sea provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: In the epilogue, Saoirse smashes Ben's face into his birthday cake, just as he did to her on her own birthday. While Ben is surprised at first, he soon laughs about it along with everyone else, showing how his relationship with Saoirse has become more positive.
  • 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 colours also set them apart.
  • Amplifier Artifact: The coats worn by the Selkies. Without them, they cannot talk and will eventually die.
  • 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 from dying, her song is able to send the Daoine Sídhe 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. Nonetheless, the story ends on the note that Ben and Saoirse's family is no longer broken as it was before, and Saoirse is finally able to speak without needing her selkie coat.
  • Blush Sticker: Ben, Saoirse and Bronagh 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 syphoning her own emotions and putting them in jars. The same thing is happening to Saoirse when she and Ben reunite.
  • Bookends: 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, in 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. However, in exchange she's no longer The Speechless, being able to speak without needing to wear a selkie coat.
  • The Cameo: During a scene that takes place on a bus, Aisling is one of the passengers.
  • Cathartic Crying: Macha is a witch who steals emotions from other people, which turns those people to stone. It is later revealed that her actions are not done out of malice, but rather out of a desire to end suffering. She even does this to herself and her son Mac Lir in order to stop their pain. When Ben convinces Saoirse to use the shell flute to break the jars holding Macha's emotions, Macha is overwhelmed by the returning emotions and weeps in regret over turning her son to stone.
  • Central Theme: Family and dealing with loss. Bronagh's disappearance makes Conor depressed and alcoholic, and Ben blames Saoirse in his grief. Mac Lir was so grieved for an unspecified reason that Macha stole his emotions and petrified him to stop it. Ben realizing the truth helps him move on and apologize to Saoirse. The Selkie's song beckons all the fairies to pass on, and Bronagh leaves for good, although Saoirse chooses to stay.
  • Chained Heat: Ben tethers Saoirse to him using Cú's leash, releasing her only when they're reunited with Cú.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Bronagh was never said to have died, so her reappearance was almost inevitable.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The shell flute, once Saoirse discovers it.
    • Bronagh teaching Ben the Song of the Sea in the prologue.
  • 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.
  • Company Cross References: Aisling from The Secret of Kells (another Cartoon Saloon film) can be seen sitting on a bus full of children in Halloween costumes.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Bronagh's disappearance turned Conor into a depressed alcoholic and Ben into a Big Brother Bully to Saoirse.
  • Dispel Magic: The selkie song saves the fairies Taken for Granite by Macha.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The conceptual trailer and official art show Bronagh without shoes.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Cú means "hound" in Irish. Overlaps with This Is My Name on Foreign.
  • 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: Conor visits the pub on Saoirse's birthday because it reminded him of his wife's disappearance six years ago.
  • The End: The final scene of the film is simply the word "Críoch", which is Irish for "end".
  • End of an Age: Saoirse regains her coat and sings her song, ushering all of Ireland's fair folk across the sea to Tír na nÓg. She gives up her selkie coat to stay on Earth with her human family, taking with it the last remaining bond to the fairy world.
  • "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.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Aside from the prologue and epilogue, the story takes place over the course of only two days.
  • 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 Neighbours", "The Other Crowd", "Daoine Sídhe", "Fairies", "The Sídhe". The trope is downplayed since most of the Daoine Sidhe Ben and Saoirse encounter are reclusive but still friendly; even Macha, the dreaded Owl Witch who turns people to stone by stealing their emotions, is more of a Well-Intentioned Extremist who's under the misguided belief that she's helping them.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The white sleeves and coat apart of Bronagh's dress in the beginning resemble an animal's fur, foreshadowing her selkie nature. It's later revealed that the white coat she wears is in fact her selkie coat.
    • 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. This indicates that she's able to speak while wearing her selkie coat, even if she doesn't actually do so until near the end of the story.
    • 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.
    • Lug, Mossy and Spud try to remember a song verse, only to have Ben, hidden behind a stone statue, 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 it's revealed that these stone statues are actually 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.
    • Bronagh teaching young Ben the words to the selkie song in the prologue.
    • Ferry Dan refers to Granny as an "Old Witch!" twice, telegraphing the And You Were There appearance of Macha.
    • Likewise, one brief shot features Conor on the ferry and Mac Lir island in the background, predicting Mac Lir's And You Were There moment.
  • Gender Equals Breed: Ben and Saoirse have a human father and a selkie mother. While Ben is a human like his father, Saoirse is a selkie like her mother. Saoirse becomes completely human at the end, though, since she had to give up her selkie powers in order to stay in the human world.
  • Genre Savvy: Zigzagged. Conor, knowing about the selkies, hides Saoirse's selkie coat in a locked chest and throws it into the sea so that he won't lose her the same way he lost Bronagh. But he probably doesn't figure that his actions make Saoirse's health deteriorate later on.
  • Ghibli Hills: While this film focuses more on the sea, Ben and Saoirse still travel through the Irish countryside after they escape Granny's house in the city to get back home, and there are lingering shots of the scenery as they walk through it.
  • Giant's Droplet, Human's Shower: The Great Seanachai relates the story of the giant Mac Lir, who cried so much that the world was on the precipice of flooding. Macha had to take extreme measures by stealing her son's emotions and turning him to stone to relieve him of his suffering.
  • Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing: This is the dynamic between Ben and his little sister Saoirse. While Saoirse is a sweet and loving little girl, Ben is mainly snarky and cynical. Ben does manage to warm up by the film's end though.
  • Go to Your Room!: Conor sends Ben to his room as punishment for smashing Saoirse's face into her birthday cake.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language:
    • Bronagh, Ben, and Saoirse sing the titular Song of the Sea in Irish.
    • When Granny scolds Ben for ruining Saoirse's birthday, she calls him "you little tachrán". "Tachrán" means small kid in Irish.
    • Lug, Mossy, Spud, the Great Seanachai, and Ben sing the part of "Dúlamán"'s actual lyrics, an Irish song about the titular seaweed.
    • When the Great Seanachai summons lights, he says Suas, suas na Soilse beag! Translation . He also sings "Cailleach an Airgid" in Irish.
      The Great Seanachai: Sí do mhaimeo í, 'sí do mhaimeo í. 'Sí do mhaimeo í. Sí do... sí do, do... do... Translation 
    • At one point, Macha says "mo chroi", meaning my heart in Irish.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It rains when Ben and Saoirse are taken away from their beloved island by Granny.
  • Halloween Episode: A majority of the film is set on Halloween as Ben seeks to return home to Conor's lighthouse but he and Saoirse end up on an adventure that will decide the fate of all the fairies.
  • Happily Married: Conor with Bronagh before her disappearance.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Ben on seeing what really happened the night his mother disappeared 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 Wicked Witch who steals emotions and has turned her son, Mac Lir, to stone all For the Evulz. In truth, the story fails to mention how she stole her son's emotions to save the world from drowning in his tears, which she couldn't bear to see, 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.
    Macha: Well, now, those stories always paint me as the bad one. But I'm not so terrible, you know. I'm just trying to help everyone.
  • 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.
  • I Choose to Stay: Towards the end of the film, Bronagh tells Saoirse that since she's half human, she has a choice of whether to join Bronagh and the other sidhe across the sea, or stay with Ben and Conor. Saoirse ultimately chooses to stay in the human world.
  • 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: Granny calls Ben a "stubborn boy" when he's loudly refusing to leave the lighthouse. Macha calls Ben the same exact thing when he's not letting her get to the room she trapped Saoirse in. What makes it all the more ironic is the lack of malice in Macha's tone, making her lack of emotions all the more uncanny.
  • It Kind of Looks Like a Face:
    • Throughout the film there are rocks that have vaguely human faces, which turn out to be fairies turned to stone by Macha.
    • At one point, Ben and Saoirse pass a row of electric pylons that resemble owls.
  • 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.
    • Macha in the almost-literal sense when she forces her way in her attic which Cú was preventing her from doing to protect Ben and Saoirse from her.
  • 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 selkie coat is taking a toll on her body. Bronagh, in the beginning, got some white hair to show how bad her pregnancy really was for her.
  • The Magic Goes Away: At the end, Saoirse sings the titular Song of the Sea, allowing the fairies to leave the human world and go home to Tír na nÓg; her mother, a selkie, must leave with them, but Saoirse herself is allowed to shed her selkie half and remain with her human family.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Ben resents and silently blames his sister, Saoirse, for the disappearance of their mother, Bronagh, on the day of her birth. Not helping his attitude is the fact that their father, Conor, is very loving towards Saoirse, sometimes at the expense of Ben, leading Ben to develop into an Aloof Older Brother at best and a flat-out Big Brother Bully at worst. However, when she's dying from (partly) being half turned to stone, he apologizes and admits that none of it was her fault.
  • Meaningful Echo: Ben's confrontation with Macha mirrors his earlier confrontation with Granny in the lighthouse, from Cú being alongside Ben, to Macha calling him "stubborn boy" (albeit in a pleasant voice tone).
  • Meaningful Name: Several names are derived from Irish; 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 disappears giving birth to Saoirse in the night. As a result, her husband, Conor, has become wistful and distant and her son, Ben, blames Saoirse for their mother's disappearance. 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 go across the sea with the other fairies to their homeland.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The rock near Conor's lighthouse looks like the legendary giant, Mac Lir. It is the actual Mac Lir, Taken for Granite because his mother, Macha, took his grief to save the world from drowning in his tears.
  • 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.
  • Multilingual Song:
    • "The Song" has lyrics in both Irish and English.
    • The verses of the film's version of "Dúlamán" are in English, but the chorus is in Irish (though the English verses were written specifically for the film, and the original folk song is entirely in Irish).
  • 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.
  • Myth Prologue: The movie begins with young Ben and his mother painting a wall mural of a selkie, the Daoine Sídhe, the Great Seanchaí, Macha's owls, and Mac Lir, all of whom will later come into play throughout the story.
  • 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.
  • No Full Name Given: Most of the characters are only known by their first names.
  • 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 sickly daughter to a hospital as soon as possible.
  • 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 noticeably choppy and low framerate compared to everything else.
  • Ominous Owl: Macha the Owl Witch has owls as her minions. The stories about her cast her as a Wicked 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.
  • 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 even when the latter feels like The Unfavorite. 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.
  • Power Floats: When Saoirse finally sings the song that frees the Daoine Sidhe, not only is her health restored, but she starts floating upward and her hair floats as well. Her body and her hair both stop floating when Bronagh takes away her selkie coat, which severs her ties to the fairy world.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "WHERE. IS. HER. COAT?!"
  • Race Against the Clock: As the Great Seanachai points out, Ben has to find Saoirse's selkie coat and return it to her until the dawn.
  • 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 when he sees how half of her body is turned to stone.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: The film was rated PG in Ontario when shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, but was rated G on DVD.
  • Scary Flashlight Face: Ben uses a flashlight under his face while telling Saoirse the story of Macha the Owl Witch, to better scare his little sister.
  • 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: Selkies are distinguished from normal seals by the white seal skins that they shed to transform into humans on land. Saoirse can't speak and slowly falls ill without her seal skin, which her human father hides because he doesn't want to lose her the way he lost her selkie mother. Near the end of the film, she sends all the fairies home across the sea with the titular Song of the Sea, echoing The Legend of Chekhov told by Ben.
  • The Shadow Knows: As Saoirse climbs the lighthouse stairs with the seashell, her shadow is that of her selkie form.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: Bronagh is a selkie who's Happily Married to Conor, a human lighthouse keeper. They have a son and daughter named Ben and Saoirse together, but she returns to the sea giving birth to Saoirse in the night. The story focuses instead on Ben and Saoirse's journey to save both the lives of the fairies and Saoirse after their father throws her selkie coat into the sea which makes her ill.
  • 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. Director Tomm Moore has stated that Totoro was a prominent influence on the film.
    • 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.
    • The song Lug, Mossy and Spud sing is "Dúlamán", a real Irish folk song. While the verses they sing are in English and were composed specifically for the movie, the chorus is sung in the original Irish.
  • Significant Double Casting: Three times.
    • Brendan Gleeson as Conor/Mac Lir. Both men paralysed by grief after losing a loved one.
    • Fionula Flannigan as Granny/Macha. Stern older women who believe they know what’s best for their loved ones, and acting on that belief, while ignoring the feelings of those same loved ones. Additionally, the respective mothers of the previous example.
    • Jon Kenny as Ferry Dan/ Great Seanachaí. Eccentric older figures who attempt to aid Ben without much success.
  • Silent Treatment: Granny's attitude towards Dan the Ferryman when he's only trying to be friendly.
  • 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 drape for good measure.
  • 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 Speaking: 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 becomes friends with a group of normal, 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.
  • Tempting Fate: In the prologue, a 4-year-old Ben sleepily wonders to his mother if he and his unborn sibling will be best friends, to which his mother assures her son he'll be the best big brother in the whole world. Six years later, Ben has spent the entirety of Saoirse's life tormenting and resenting her, being neither friends with nor a good brother to his little sister.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: At the beginning, when Bronagh gives Ben the shell flute, she tells him that "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."
  • Took a Level in Kindness: The film starts with Ben being a petty jerk towards his sister, Saoirse (post-time skip). But as the film progresses, Ben ultimately realizes how much he was wrong to bully her. By the film's end, Ben becomes a much kinder and responsible big brother.
  • 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.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: A French trailer spoils the plot from beginning to end, even going as far as to include the last shot of the film.
  • Traitor Shot: Ben's facial expression before dunking Saoirse's face into the cake.
  • Travel Montage: As Granny takes Ben and Saoirse to the city, Ben prepares a map to lead him back home. The crayon-drawn map is shown combined with scenes of the car on the road.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: When Ben revisits the memory of the fateful night of Saoirse's birth and his mother's disappearance.
  • Unwilling Suspension: Ben briefly gets tangled up in the Great Seanchai's hair and suspended from the ceiling of his cave.
  • 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. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that not only is Saoirse unable to speak without her coat, she'll also fall ill and die.
  • 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 towards 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 their father 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.


Video Example(s):


Ben to Saorise

Ben is deeply resentful of his younger sister Saorise, blaming her for his mother's death, and spends most of the first half of the film picking on her.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / BigBrotherBully

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