Friday, January 4, 2013

The Secret of Kells (Review)

Director(s): Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Company: Cartoon Saloon
Year: 2009
Country: Ireland

Hand drawn animation is not dead.

The Secret of Kells is a mixture of Irish folklore and an original storyline which explains the origins of Ireland’s most famous religious text, the Book of Kells. It centers around the childhood of Brendan, a young monk, who longs to see what life is like outside of the walls of Kells. He lives under constant pressure from his oppressive uncle, Abbot Cellach, who obsessively works on his wall in order to fend off Vikings, barbarians, and other dangers from the outside world. In his over protectiveness, he fails to realize that his is actually harming his nephew and the rest of the abbey’s inhabitants by cutting off their contact from the beauty and knowledge that can only be gained from firsthand experience. 
Brendan befriends Brother Aidan who serves as the father figure he never had. Aidan realizes Brendan’s talent and teaches him how to become an illuminator (a kind of medieval book illustrator) and encourages him to venture into the woods outside of the walls. It is in these woods that Brendan befriends a young forest spirit, Aisling, who provides an interesting contrast to the other characters. When she states that she is the last of her kind it symbolizes the extinguishment of Celtic animism. Never the less she and Brendan never argue about their different beliefs. (In fact, despite that the movie is based on a religious text the movie never preaches to the audience or tries to shove an overly moralistic message down their throats. The word Bible is never even mentioned; it is just passively referred to as the Book of Light.) 

Brandon, Cellach, and the Monks

Being an animated film, The Secret of Kells is automatically required to have a good artistic design in order to be successful. This is where the movie achieves its greatest success. The whole visual style of the movie is based off of medieval manuscripts and limited television animation contrasted by lushly detailed backgrounds (in places the character design resembles that of the cartoon series Samurai Jack and the video game series The Legend of Zelda). Each setting has its own unique style as well. For instance, the Aisling’s forest is heavily inspired by Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimpt which gives the scene a very intriguing, mysterious, yet welcoming feel. This is the exact opposite of Cellach’s tower which is very tall and looms over the entire abbey suggesting Cellach’s harsh leadership and constant wariness. (Cellach himself actually resembles his tower because of his own unnaturally tall height and slim build.) Other parts of the movie make great use color scheme. For instance, when the Vikings raid Kells the entire sequence is animated using only red, black, and white which adds to the unease and distress of the scene.

 Art Nouveau meets Celtic Art

Cellach is tall and imposing like his tower.

Animation style and color change with the mood of each scene.
Overall, The Secret of Kells is a unique visual experience that will not easily be forgotten once seen. I would not recommend it to the typical movie goer who is unfamiliar with Irish culture or is expecting a ‘typical kid’s cartoon’ to simply rent for their children’s enjoyment. However if you are an artist, interested in other cultures, or tired of this summer’s redundant sequels and blockbusters, then I would highly recommend this film. This is truly a wonderful yet overlooked film about how the preservation of one’s culture, acceptance of one’s core values, and the acceptance others are all essential in order to find hope and happiness in troubled times.
Rating: 4.5/5