John Sayles’s 1994 The Secret of Roan Inish introduced filmgoers to selkies, mermaid-like creatures from Celtic mythology who live as humans on land and as seals in the sea (15 years later, Colin Farrell fell in love with one in Neil Jordan’s Ondine). Tomm Moore’s handcrafted, Oscar-nominated animated feature Song of the Sea centers on Ben (David Rawle, the hilarious kid from Moone Boy) and his younger sister, Saoirse, who live with their widowed lighthouse-keeper father, Conor (national treasure Brendan Gleeson).
Saoirse can’t or won’t talk, so Ben prefers to hang out with yappy family sheepdog Cù. When everyone is asleep, Saoirse embraces her secret selkie nature and swims with the seals. After their grumpy grandmother insists they stay with her in the city, things take a turn for the weird as the duo tangles with rock fairies and owl witches en route to healing their fractured family.
Though cinema history is littered with Irish entertainments that tend toward the cute and mawkish, Moore (2009’s The Secret of Kells) keeps it (un)real with painterly imagery, a Point-like narrative (whereby that which seems strange turns out to be pretty special), and two appealing kids at the center of it all.