Released in December 2014, this Oscar-nominated film follows six year-old Saoirse, the last of the selkies (seal-shifters) and her older brother Ben. As the movie opens, Saoirse and her family do not know she is a selkie: the focus instead is on her inability to speak and how all of them cope (or not) with her mother’s death. With the help of a shell their mother gave to Ben, Saoirse discovers the truth, but her dad (fearing for her safety) takes her newly-found sealskin away and agrees to let her grandmother raise Ben and Saoirse in the city. When the siblings run away, they learn that Saoirse can free the fey from stone and open the way to their homeland, and Ben must step in to protect Saoirse despite his resentment of her perceived role in the events that made him so unhappy. Most of this film centers on the importance of family, but minor themes relating to storytelling and the value of feelings also exist. There is no intended age range for this audience and the PG rating is appropriate, but as Common Sense Media points out, the sometimes suspenseful story (there are near-death situations) might make it unsuitable for children in kindergarten or younger. While there is nothing overt in the plot, dialogue, or artwork that might bar tweens or teens from enjoying the movie, the gentle storyline could be a hard sell; as a result, I would say that this is best for kids between the first and fifth grades.
In addition to its nomination for the Academy Award for best feature, Song of the Sea garnered international acclaim for its writing, production, music, and characters from venues like the Annie Awards (dedicated specifically to animated films). However, not all viewers are unequivocally enamored; Donald Levit of ReelTalk Movie Reviews was generally positive, but also notes that “though aimed first of all at children, [Song of the Sea] is too busy, or frankly cluttered, for them. Grown-up children, too, will find problems in where exactly to focus visually and well as mentally, so that the advised approach is relaxed and emotional rather than strictly logical.”
Overall, this is a lovely story about family and provides a brief introduction to several Irish myths through the storyline. Many of the voice actors and producers are Irish, which help keep the setting and dialogue from becoming stereotypical while still maintaining the flavor of Ireland needed to reinforce the mythology. Peter Debruge remarks on this cultural sensitivity for Variety, saying that “The idea isn’t to shoehorn local legend into a comfortable Disney formula, but rather, to find the appropriate animated style through which to communicate his culturally specific narrative traditions.” Despite its setting, this story is not unique to Ireland: family is a universal reality and many viewers can easily identify with Ben, angry at circumstances beyond his control, and Saoirse, who is lonely and continually reaches out to Ben despite being rebuffed. Much of the understanding viewers gain about the characters and the story relies as much on what is portrayed by their actions and expressions as on what they say, making its lessons subtle enough to be palatable to adults but still accessible to younger viewers.
Warnings: no bad language actually said, but there is a door that says “feic off” and there are a few depictions of adults drinking at a pub or smoking tobacco.