Song Of The Sea

The Kilkenny, Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon animation studio gave a presentation on Tuesday night at Woodbury University in Burbank, California. This was the same presentation that Cartoon Saloon gave at the 2014 Comic-Con International in San Diego the previous week, repeated for ASIFA-Hollywood members before Cartoon Saloon went back to Ireland.

The presentation was on Cartoon Saloon’s second theatrical animated feature, Song of the Sea, due to be finished and released in America later this year by GKIDS.  The presenters were Tomm Moore, Cartoon Saloon’s co-founder and the director of the two features, and Paul Young, another studio co-founder, the producer of the two features and one of the character voices in The Secret of Kells.  They also sold and signed the just-published “making of” coffee-table art book of Cartoon Saloon’s first theatrical feature, the March 2009 The Secret of Kells.  The July 2014 book is Designing The Secret of Kells, written by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, the Kells art director.

Cartoon Saloon-US' Jamie Kezlarian Bolio (left) moderates the panel at Woodbury University with director Tomm Moore (center) and producer Paul Young (right)
Cartoon Saloon-US' Jamie Kezlarian Bolio (left) moderates the panel at Woodbury University with director Tomm Moore (center) and producer Paul Young (right)

Cartoon Saloon’s synopsis of the in-progress Song of the Sea is:  “Song of the Sea tells the story of Ben and his little sister Saoirse -- the last Seal-child -- who embark on a fantastic journey across a fading world of ancient legend and magic in an attempt to return to their home by the sea. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land. Song of the Sea features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lisa Hannigan, Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny, Lucy O'Connell, Liam Hourican and Kevin Swierszsz. Music is by composer Bruno Coulais and Irish band Kíla, both of whom previously collaborated on The Secret of Kells.

19th and early 20th century collections of international folk tales contain many of the original tales of Selkies – roughly Celtic equivalents of mermaid legends, about women who dress in sealskins to become real seals.  Most are very depressing, about poor fisherman on bleak and freezing Irish, Scottish, Cornish or Welsh seacoasts, and the loss of their wives and their children’s mothers.  Since Song of the Sea is designed to be family-friendly, it has a more upbeat plot, making Saoirse, the little girl, the Selkie who turns into a seal when she dons her mother’s sealskin, and showing the marvels of the sea through her eyes; while Ben, her slightly older brother, tries to save her for humanity rather than losing her to the seal-folk.  Song of the Sea has basically the same “Celtic” art design seen in The Secret of Kells.

Cartoon Saloon panel

The presentation only touched on Moore’s and Young’s Cartoon Saloon animation studio.  According to online sources, Cartoon Saloon was founded in 1999 by Moore, Young, Stewart, and several young friends in Dublin’s Ballyfermot Senior College’s animation course.  Moore (born in 1977) had been inspired in his adolescence in Kilkenny by American super-hero comic books and the animation studio that Don Bluth had set up in Dublin.  But by the time he was old enough to apply for professional work, Bluth had moved back to the U.S.  Moore entered Ballyfermot’s animation course (originally set up by Bluth to train animators for his studio), where he met the other students who became inspired to create Cartoon Saloon and become its first staff.  Their major influences were Richard Williams’ unfinished The Thief and the Cobbler, Disney’s Mulan with its Chinese motifs, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki; but they wanted to do something with Celtic design.  Moore returned to Kilkenny, where he was already familiar with the city’s live-action Young Irish Film Makers group, and established the first Cartoon Saloon studio with their help.  Later the Irish Film Board helped the studio to move to its present larger premises.

Cartoon Saloon today, according to Wikipedia, “provides animation, illustration and design services for clients ranging from the BBC to Walker books and advertising agencies.”  The Secret of Kells, its first theatrical feature, won or was nominated for numerous international awards including the 2009 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.  Its other works include the 2007-2008 Flash animation TV series Skunk Fu! (26 episodes; shown in 29 countries; reportedly a feature film is in production), other TV series in production, fine-art short films, TV commercials, and currently an exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin, on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf.