Greetings again from the darkness. Fans of animation can expect to experience a bit of nostalgia as they treasure the rare hand-drawn works of animator Tomm Moore. However, Mr. Moore’s artistry may even be exceeded by his extraordinary story telling ability. This gem from Ireland is an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature, as was Mr. Moore’s The Secret of Kells (a runner-up that year to Up). It’s a top notch family movie filled with adventure, fantasy, emotion and characters worth caring about.
Young Ben lives an ideal life with his lighthouse caretaker father, pregnant mother, and beloved dog Cu on an isolated island. Ideal that is, until the “Bambi’s mother” moment, which 6 years later, finds Ben’s dad still in mourning, while Ben flashes animosity and blame towards his mute little sister, Saoirse (pronounced Sir-sha). What we as viewers soon learn is that cute little Saoirse is a selkie – just like her mother was. Irish and Scottish legend states that selkies can transform themselves from people to seals, and have a real connection with the sea and the fairy world.
When the over-bearing, know-it-all granny decides that an island is no place to raise kids, she moves Ben and Saoirse to the big city … sans dog and dad. Of course, this is a terrible idea and the two kids are soon enough off on an adventure of self-discovery and rescue. They run into 3 of the remaining fairies who know that selkie Saoirse is their only hope with her magic sea shell (from her mom) and her as yet undiscovered singing voice. It turns out the songs Ben’s mom taught him, when sung by Saoirse, can free the souls of the fairies turned to stone by the evil owl witch Macha. The real fun is in the details of their adventure.
Moore’s story has the feel of an ancient folk tale and legend, with a dose of mythology. Since the story coincides with Halloween, it also adds an additional element of creatures, real vs pretend. As you can see, the story is no mindless cartoon. It contains much emotion tied to the brother/sister battles, the loss of a parent, nosy relatives, and the path of discovering one’s own self … even through the eyes of children. Terrific voice work comes courtesy of Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle (Ben), and Lucy O’Connell (Saoirse). It’s a timeless story that, amongst other things, is a legitimate Oscar contender while reminding brothers to be nice to their sister!