“The seas around Orkney and Shetland harbor the shy Selkies or Seal-Faeries (known as the Roane in Ireland). A female Selkie is able to discard her seal skin and come ashore as a beautiful maiden. If a human can capture her skin, the Selkie can be forced to become a fine, if wistful, wife. However, should she ever find her skin she immediately returns to the sea, leaving the husband to pine and die. The males raise storms and upturn boats to avenge the indiscriminate slaughter of the seals.” — Brian Froud and Alan Lee, “Faeries”
The mythical Selkie is a focus of two memorable movies—The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) and the more recent The Song of the Sea, one among the 2015 nominees for the Academy Award for Animation. Both the live action Roan Inish, directed by John Sayles, and Song of the Sea deal with the Selkie as revealed family member—brother in the former and sister and mother in the latter. And both, though intended for children, are equally as captivating for adults.
Song of the Sea was my choice this weekend in anticipation of the Academy Awards. The characters are drawn simply but they are placed in landscapes both unusual and beautifully rendered—villages, a winding road up to a cottage and lighthouse, the outline in white of creatures and objects superimposed over richly colored seascapes.
The strength of the movie is in its portrayal of family—the disappearance of a parent, displacement for the “good of the children,” the older brother struggling with his relationship with his mute and annoying (to him) younger sister who he associates with his mother’s absence.
The film shares something with the mythological creatures it features: it hovers just outside our view. Because it didn’t win the Oscar and is in more limited release than the higher profile nominees, Song of the Sea—as well as The Tale of the Princess Kayuga—will be seen by fewer people, which is unfortunate. The best animated films are works of art and those who appreciate art will find it worth their while to slip into the world of this film to view the wonders inside.