Jack Moulton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Director Tomm Moore's followup to his Oscar nominated debut The Secret of Kells certainly has the potential to follow in its footsteps if it can reach enough of an audience. Song of the Sea adapts the Selkie legends and takes them one step further. I'm quite familiar with the story having spent the last year of my degree writing a short film about it, but Songsubverts the mythological and tells a sequel of sorts. The story is essentially Beauty and the Beastplus The Little Mermaid, wherein seals turn to women and fall in love with men on the land, staying with them until they are called back to the sea.
Beginning at the end of the tale, the mother Selkie, who has wedded a human fisherman and already had a baby boy with him, is pregnant once more. About to give birth, she relents that she has to go back to sea and sacrifices herself to leave a baby girl to the remaining family. It jumps six years into the future. The older brother, Ben, resents his younger and mute sister, Saoirse, for their mother having to leave them for good. At odds between their home by the rough treacherous sea and their fussy Grandma who wants them to live in the city, they're forced away from their distraught father (voiced charmingly by Brendan Gleeson) and their dog to live with her.
Immediately reluctant to settle, they begin their journey home and discover that the ancient stories and characters their mother told them are true. As a half-Selkie, Saoirse has the power to save a race of trolls turned to stone, and Ben has the responsibility of making sure she meets their goal. The theme is overt, bottling up emotions turns you to stone, but the truth in that is powerful. There's a very delicate storybook quality to the film. Perhaps mostly due to the simplistic and now refreshing 2D animation style that glitters beautifully with its swirls, but also in the episodic way the story unfolds. It is quite pedestrian in its traditions and obviously contrived in its storytelling, one ostensibly accessible for children, but the emotional honesty and depth of the characters make it engaging. It has at least a sprightly spirit of adventure.
Granted, side characters are often eccentric for the sake of being eccentric. Though they do have the type of elasticity we haven't seen since the Disney films of the 60s and 70s after they've become more reserved in the 90s. The elegant style owes a debt to Ghibli films, but I'm not a big fan of Hayao Miyasaki outside of his craft and I preferred this more identifiable approach to the fantasy. Fortunately, among all the fantastical elements it has a very grounded sense of humour rather than an often irritatingly quirky one that a film like Frozen boasts and it makes it a much easier film to invest in. With its overwhelming ending, endearing characters, and lovely Celtic music, Song Of The Sea a thoroughly pleasant and poignant experience. The film won't be big enough to contend for the Oscar win, but with any luck we'll see it on the shortlist and in the top five.