Australian Council on Children and the Media

Song of the Sea

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Not suitable under 6; parental guidance to 11 (mildly scary scenes and sad themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Song of the Sea
  • a review of Song of the Sea completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 15 October 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 6 Not suitable due to some mildly scary scenes, sad themes and a complex plot.
Children aged 6–11 Parental guidance recommended due to mildly scary scenes and sad themes.
Children over the age of 11 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Song of the Sea
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild fantasy themes
Length 90 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Saoirse (voice of Lucy O’Connell) and Ben (voice of David Rawle) are two little children who live on a wild and beautiful island off the coast of Ireland. They lost their mother, Bronagh (voice of Lisa Hannigan) when Saoirse was born and are being raised by their father, the lighthouse keeper (voice of Brendan Gleeson). He is still stricken with grief and has taken to spending too much time in the pub. Saoirse has never found her voice and is mute. Ben misses their mother so much and can only resent his little sister for taking her away. On Saoirse’s sixth birthday, their grandmother (voice of Fionnula Flanagan) comes to visit them from the mainland. She thinks that they are not safe living on the island and insists that they would be better off going to stay with her in the big city. That night, Saoirse finds a large shell that was left by her mother. As she gently blows into the shell, a haunting tune comes from within it. The tune carries through the night air and awakens hundreds of glowing fairy lights. Saoirse follows the lights and they lead her to an old trunk at the back of a closet. She lifts the lid of the trunk and is delighted to find a shining white fur coat. She slips the coat over her shoulders and walks down to the shore where she can see the shining eyes of seals peeping out at her from the still water. Without knowing why, Saoirse is compelled to wade out and dive down into the sea with the seals. As she enters the water, she transforms into a glowing white seal who can glide and play in the deep ocean. She is a Selkie (mythical human/seal creature)! In the meantime, their grandmother has discovered that Saoirse is not tucked up in bed and has rushed to the shore to find her. Saoirse washes up on the beach in her human form and is immediately whisked back into the house by her worried grandmother. The next day, their father reluctantly agrees that Saoirse and Ben should go to the city with their grandmother and he locks the enchanted fur coat back in the trunk and throws it deep into the ocean. Ben is furious to be leaving the island, and his beloved Sheep dog ‘Cu’ and he makes sure to map out the way home as they drive to the city, planning to escape as soon as he can.

As soon as they arrive in the city, the children know that they must make their way back home. Saoirse is increasingly desperate to return to her Selkie seal form and Ben is homesick and missing his dog. Together they go back through the lush Irish countryside, trying to find their way home. It’s an adventurous and perilous mission. Saoirse’s Selkie song from the seashell has awakened many of the faerie folk and characters of myth and legend whom they encounter along the way. Ben is amazed, as all the stories his mother told him as a small boy seem to be coming to life! As they travel along, Saoirse becomes weaker and weaker until she can barely walk. She needs her Selkie coat and to sing her Selkie song to survive and it’s down to Ben to make sure she gets home and can be revived.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Loss of a parent; Grief; Mythology; Supernatural; Storytelling; Magic; The sea; Sibling relationships.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some very mild violence in this movie including:

  • There is some mild fighting between the siblings. For example, Ben pushes Saoirse off a rock at the beach and pushes her face into a birthday cake.
  • Ben has a pretend/play gun and he uses it to march Saoirse back into the house, as if she is under arrest.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Ben and Saoirse’s mother has disappeared. This is an ongoing theme throughout the film and there are some emotional and sad scenes where Ben is remembering his mother. We find out later in the film what has happened and although there is some sense of resolution, it is not a typical ‘happy ending’.
  • Ben and Saoirse are made to go and stay with their Grandmother in the city. They do not want to go and Ben is forced to leave his beloved dog behind. Ben is angry and cries as he leaves.
  • Some of the characters have quite quirky, strange looking faces (hand drawn illustrations) that small children could find a little scary.
  • There is a witch, who has similar features to an owl, and she has several owls that are her messengers and who come and sit on her shoulders. She is not a very mean or scary villain but is quite distinctive.
  • Ben’s father is having trouble dealing with the loss of his wife (the children’s mother). He often looks sad and tired. In one scene he shouts angrily at Ben and Ben bursts into tears.
  • Ben is pulled into the ocean by his dog, and we realise that he can’t swim and that he is afraid of the water. In another scene he is again pulled into the water by his dog, down into a deep well. In both scenes, he manages to free himself and get up to the surface of the water.
  • When Ben and Saoirse are in the big city, it’s Halloween and there are many children roaming the streets in costumes and masks. It is not scary, but a little surreal.
  • Ben and Saoirse find themselves in a dark forest and fear that they might be lost.
  • As they travel back to their home, Saoirse starts to become weaker and weaker. She looks more and more pale and sick. Eventually she can no longer walk. Ben is desperately worried about her. It is quite emotional.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Children in this age group may still find some of the above-mentioned scenes either disturbing or scary.
  • Children in this age group may be more sensitive and perceptive to the emotional themes that run through this film – more so than younger viewers. Particular consideration for children who have experienced the loss of a parent.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Although children in this age group are unlikely to be scared by this film, there is still some very emotional moments that sensitive children may find upsetting or overwhelming.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • A character smokes a pipe.
  • The dad is seen drinking beer in a bar.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • There is a sign on a door that says, “Feic off”. This looks ruder than it actually is – feic is Irish slang and different to the f-word in the English language.
  • Ben insults his sister, calling her stupid and annoying.

In a nutshell

Song of the Sea is a rich, atmospheric and beautiful film. It weaves a complex story of enchantment, mythology and symbolism together with a more human story about living with grief and loss. The hand-drawn 2-D animation is like a moving piece of art and the traditional music-score is absolutely delightful. It is much slower paced and a bit more melancholic than most other children’s films but will keep many children captivated from beginning to end. Although there is not much that will scare small children, parents should be aware that it is a bit of a tear-jerker and some children may find it emotionally overwhelming at times.

The main messages from this movie are the love between siblings; the importance and power of storytelling; and the acceptance of grief and loss.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • This movie shows us that ‘negative’ emotions, like sadness and grief, are an important part of the human experience and should not be denied or supressed.
  • Ben holds on to the memory of his mother through the stories she told him. This film shows how traditional oral storytelling is a powerful link to our past and to the earth.
  • Finding your true inner voice and being brave enough to use it.
  • Caring for and helping your brothers and sisters.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The father in this film deals with the loss of his wife by drinking in the pub. Is this a healthy way of dealing with your emotions?

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