Secret of Kells, The (2009)

Tomm Moore’s debut feature is a visual feast that evokes a sense of wonderment even if it may be narratively slight.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #513

Dir. Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey
2009 | Ireland | Animation/Adventure/Fantasy | 76 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Irish Gaelic
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally
Plot: A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers.
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Animated Feature

International Sales: Celluloid Dreams

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light/Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: European Union Film Festival
First Published: 10 May 2010
Spoilers: No

A surprise entry as an Oscar nominee for Best Animated film, The Secret of Kells left many dumbfounded by its inclusion by the Academy in a year teeming with more quality animated features than before.  

Plucked from obscurity, The Secret of Kells is thrust into the limelight and placed among a quite stellar lineup of films: UpFantastic Mr. FoxCoraline; and The Princess and the Frog.

Directed by Tomm Moore and co-directed by Nora Twomey, its story is as straightforward as it can get.  A boy, Brendan, disobeys orders and wanders into the “dark forest” in order to get oak seeds to make ink for a book that has to be completed by him.  

He meets a fairy-girl who saves him from bloodthirsty creatures.  The film is set in a period of constant fear set forth by an imminent attack on Brendan’s people by Vikings bound on demolishing the circumferential wall that is built to repel them.

“You can’t find out everything from books, you know.”

Like most animated features, The Secret of Kells is rooted in fantasy.  The animation here is visually unconventional. Moore and Twomey use special techniques to create a strange world.  

The images are simplistic but the animators skillfully evoke a sense of wonderment by subjecting their characters to numerous patterns and conceptual designs meant to blur the lines between the fantasy that is animation, and the fantasy as experienced by the animated characters.  This gives quite an original viewing experience.

If you are looking for a good story, The Secret of Kells does not provide with a satisfying one.  It is the visuals that hook us and make us temporarily care for the characters’ plight whenever they face an ominous situation.  I have to also mention the music score used which is beautiful and serene, composed by Bruno Coulais (Les Choristes, 2004).  

Grade: B




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