“Y’know Dad, I like how you bring home weird movies that no one’s heard of.”
And with that statement, spoken by my nine year-old son, my work as a parent was complete. I had climbed the mountain. Mission accomplished. Thank you, good night. [mic drop]
I’ve always been a contrarian and iconoclast, qualities that nowadays are often mistaken for ‘hipsterism’. The difference being that I eschew the popular not for the approbation of my embearded twenty-something chums but because of my simple and unshakeable conviction that popularity serves as a clear indicator of a product’s lack of quality. If a Thing has something for everyone, it simply can’t possess singular greatness, can it? I knew you’d agree with me. Which causes me to reconsider my position….
That’s not to say I want my children to perfectly emulate me. It can get lonely breathing the rarefied air. Rather, I merely want them to be open to all possibilities. It’s fine that they want to see the latest by-the-numbers Dreamworks Animation release, inevitably featuring a lead character voiced by an A-list actor or rising hip hop star who possesses no more voice acting talent than you or I. How could they resist a movie backed by an advertising budget approaching the former Soviet Union’s GDP?
Now I’m not suggesting that every indie movie is inherently superior to its big studio counterpart, but kinda. Accordingly, a few years ago I began paying close attention to the lesser-known nominees in the Academy Awards’ Best Animated Feature Film category, looking for that coveted family film that, OK, sure, no one’s ever heard of. In this way I discovered two excellent animated films from Ireland, The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). Both are directed by Tomm Moore and feature lush and totally accessible 2-D animation.
The Secret of Kells is the story of Brendan, a boy who’s lived his whole life sequestered in a monastery in medieval Ireland. Due to the ever-looming threat of marauding Vikings, Brendan’s stern uncle, the abbot of the monastery, devotes all his time and energy directing the construction of fortifications. To him, nothing is more vital. However, much to his uncle’s chagrin, Brendan’s attention is consumed by a monk newly arrived from Greece who has been working on a fantastic book of wonders (in an age when any book at all was a rarity). The monk enlists Brendan to help him complete it, a process which ultimately leads him to journey outside the monastery, befriend a mischievous wood fairy named Aisling and defeat a dark spirit that resides in a cave. And all this before the Vikings show up!
Song of the Sea is a veritable crash course in Celtic mythology, particularly that of the half-human, half-seal selkie. Ben lives on a lighthouse island with his dad and sister Saoirse (pronounced ‘sir-she’). His mom disappeared one night when he was young and is believed to have drowned. Years later, Ben’s dad is still distraught at his loss, and Ben simply has no patience for his sister who hasn’t spoken a word since she was born. When his stern but well-meaning grandmother takes him and his sister to live with her in the city, they resolve to get back to the island where they feel they belong. They are aided along the way by their sheepdog Cu, as well as a rogue’s gallery of fairies, spirits and seals.
The third film in my Irish hat trick is John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inish. It’s a live-action film from 1994. It features similar themes to Song of the Sea, including a child relocated to live in an unfamiliar place, missing family members and helpful seals. Since it’s not animated, it takes a little more attention for kids to enjoy, but it’s well worth it.
Do your children a favor and give them the opportunity to experience these great movies. The Minions will still be around when they’re done, they just might not seem as good.