I'll admit it, I get a bit crazy when it comes to my kids and screens. With both of my kiddos, I had a strict no TV of any kind policy when they were under 2 years old. Even after they hit that mark I had the brakes on. When she was a little over two, my oldest started with the occasional 20 minutes of nature videos (Disney's Oceans was a hit!) or Daniel Tiger and we were good with that. Then a family friend (who we adore) asked if she could watch this fun new Disney movie, Frozen, with my daughter. My daughter had never watched a movie before. She had never watched a video longer than 40 minutes, and I had no desire for her to do so. However, we love our friend, and she made a convincing case for watching the film. She said it was funny and different from the usual fairy tale because it focused on the love between sisters. Keep in mind, this was before Frozen completely blew up, before the viral videos of countless children (and sometimes their parents) singing every song by heart, before Frozen themed birthday parties, clothes, books, costumes, sleds, water bottles, shoes, stickers, dolls, musical instruments, and (have I forgotten anything??) ice skating shows. So I said, sure friend, I trust you, this sounds like a sweet first movie to see. Famous last words!
Fast forward to the present. My daughter hasn't seen so much of a clip of the film in (I kid you not) two years, yet she still sings the songs, role plays the characters with her friends, and turns in to the toddler equivalent of a screaming teenage One Direction fan anytime she sees so much as a Frozen sticker at the store, "MAMA IT'S ELSA!!!!" Suffice it to say that I've been on the hunt for something else, an antidote to the Frozen obsession.
Disclaimer: if you and your kiddos love Frozen, good for you! My fed upness is coming from a place of total mental exhaustion on my part and a desire to break my own kiddo out of the Frozen ice capsule and into the world of other things to care about. No judgement intended!
Enter the film Song of the Sea. Now nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, we first discovered it on the flight home from visiting family in Minnesota this summer. Even on the teeny seatback screen, my daughter and I were entranced and I ordered the film soon after arriving home. Song of the Sea is the story of a child named Ben and his sister Saoirse who live in a lighthouse with their father on an island off the coast of Ireland. Though she is 6, Saoirse does not speak and Ben is moody and brooding, blaming Saoirse for the disappearance of their mother the night she was born. Soon after the film begins Saoirse discovers that she is a selkie, a being who is a seal while in the ocean and who can live for a time as a human on land. After they are both sent to live on the mainland with their grandmother, Saoirse and Ben embark on a journey home where they meet many incredible characters from Irish myth (fairies, owl witches and elves oh my!), learn to trust each other, and discover that true courage comes from facing your feelings and believing in yourself.
I love this movie for so many reasons. First, the children depicted in the film resemble actual children. They don't have weird permanent make-up or Barbie-style bodies, and their facial expressions and body movements are slightly clumsy and nuanced like those of actual children. The art of the film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Much of the animation is charmingly hand-drawn and the depictions of the natural world throughout the film are vivid and sure to inspire curiosity and appreciation for it. The characters of Ben and Saoirse, are interesting, filled with strengths and weaknesses and very relatable. Song of the Sea is appropriate for children without being cheesy or snarky or overly cutsey. There are no annoying meta winks at the camera or grown up jokes that subtly insult kids while going over their heads. Instead we are immersed in the tale of a brother and sister having an adventure in a world that is ethereal food for the imagination.
How has my daughter responded to the film? While she still occasionally talks about Frozen, I'm happy to report that more often she is singing the melody from Song of the Sea and "swimming" around our living room like a selkie. Success!
You can watch the trailer and first 6 minutes of the film below. Enjoy and please share your favorite films to watch with children in the comments!
The first 6 minutes of the film: