Movie News & Reviews

‘Song of the Sea’ is a dreamlike voyage home: 4 stars

Rated PG | Time: 1:33

Inspired by the Celtic folklore tradition of the selkie — a sort of mermaid who can shapeshift between the form of a seal and a human woman — the Academy Award-nominated “Song of the Sea” is a sumptuous marriage of visuals and narrative.

Animated in the technically flat yet surprisingly full-bodied style of “The Secret of Kells” — imagine a fantastical pop-up book sprung to life — Irish director Tomm Moore’s follow-up to his 2009 film (another Oscar nominee, directed with Nora Twomey) enchants on every level: story, voice work, drawing and music.

The tale begins with tragedy, which may upset some small children: the apparent death during childbirth of an Irish woman named Bronach (voice of singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan), leaving her husband, Conor (Brendan Gleeson), and their two young children alone in a remote lighthouse.

Although the island is picturesque as all get-out, years later a gloomy mood still hangs over everything, with Conor pining for Bronach and son Ben (David Rawle) seeming to resent his little sister, Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) — who at age 6 has yet to speak — for their mother’s death.

The action gets underway when the children’s grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) takes them to live with her in the city after Saoirse is found frolicking alone in the surf one night. Ben and Saoirse don’t like this relocation, for as much as they miss their dad and their sheepdog, Saoirse seems to be suddenly, disturbingly wasting away.

The children’s journey back to the lighthouse is nothing short of a dream, introducing them to fairies, spells, a witch (Flanagan again) and all manner of exotic, otherworldly locales, including a subterranean grotto inhabited by a man (Jon Kenny) with a twisted, miles-long beard and equally raveled stories.

It’s the kind of dream that stirs the emotions of fear and wonder, and yet you don’t want it to end. The film’s theme — that feelings are to be felt, not bottled up — will resonate deeply with both children and adults.

The precise nature of what ails Saoirse is revealed over the course of the tale, and it won’t spoil anything to say that it has something to do with supernatural forces. Her “cure,” which involves singing a tune that I guarantee you’ll be humming on the way out of theater, is, like the film itself, pure magic.

(At the Tivoli.)

| Michael O’Sullivan, The Washington Post

WILL IT WIN THE OSCAR?

Everyone seemed to agree that “The Lego Movie” was destined to win the best animated feature Academy Award. Except somehow it didn’t even get nominated.

We used to predict the winner with the help of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which, since it began honoring animated movies in 2006, has always matched Oscar’s choice in this category. But this year’s BAFTA went to “Lego.” So we’ll use a process of elimination.

Here’s one telling clue: BAFTA didn’t even nominate “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which won the Golden Globe. And Oscar often turns up his nose at sequels.

“Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” are both little-seen foreign, hand-drawn beauties, so they might cancel each other out. “The Boxtrolls” might seem too juvenile.

That leaves many Oscar pundits predicting that Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” with its mix of humor and angst, will claim the prize. Unless “Dragon” swoops in after all.

| Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

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