Friday, 19 May 2017

World Cinema - "The Secret of Kells" (2009) - A review

Fig 1.

"The Secret of Kells" (2009) produced by Cartoon Saloon and dir. Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey and nominated for the Academy Award For Best Animated Feature is an Irish animated feature that centers on a young Monk, Brandon, living amongst the walled community of the Abbey of the Kells, under the watchful eye of his circumspect uncle, Abbot Cellach. The boy, an apprentice at the scriptorium of the monastery, hears tell of Brother Aiden and his masterwork, the - as yet - unfinished Book of Kells, becoming embroiled in the plot further when a fleeing Aiden (and feline sidekick Pangur Bán) arrives at Kells after a raid on his own settlement, sending Brandon on a quest that ultimately sees him battling darkness itself, facing up to Viking warbands, as well as befriending forest spirits and perhaps even finishing the fabled Book of Kells.

Cartoon Saloon's other films include "Song of the Sea" (2015), "Skunk Fu" (2007), "Puffin Rock" (2015) & "The Breadwinner" (2017) - to be released - ; a selection of stellar 2D animation, with Song of the Sea bearing the most similarities in terms of style, with that of The Secret of Kells. Speaking of both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Brendon Connelly, writing for Den of Geek says "One was a very good film, the other was a genuine masterpiece. Maybe Cartoon Saloon will soon become as widely known and well-loved as Pixar and Studio Ghibli." (Connelly, 2015) and it certainly seems as though the method in which Cartoon Saloon creates its properties with generates the feeling of almost studio level 'auteurship' that early Pixar films had in spades. 

Fig 2.

Roger Ebert surmises the wistfulness of the nature of this tale by reconciling it with his own experiences whilst travelling in Ireland. "The studio sent a car to ferry me and my cohort McHugh to the Dingle Peninsula. As we drove along, we crossed an old bridge and the driver said, "Leprechauns made their home under this bridge." We stopped for petrol, and I quietly said to McHugh, "He doesn't know you're Irish and is giving us the tourist treatment." "Ebert," said McHugh, "he means it." " (Ebert, 2010) He later pairs this with a discussion of the Forest Spirit present in "The Secret of Kells" commenting that "The fairy girl is quite real, as Brendan can see for himself. If there are any leprechauns, she no doubt knows them. If there are not, how does she know for sure?" (Ebert, 2010). In doing this Ebert hints at a notion, that this film presents its universe as something tangible, where myth and reality meld into something greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, monks worked on the Book of Kells, was one of them helped by a woodland spirit? No, most certainly not. But does it matter? Absolutely not.

The film derives its aesthetic from actual examples of illuminated manuscripts, and as such the style is consistent throughout as well as serving to levy limitations that keep the picture flat, albeit extremely dynamic. It is a smart choice that services the film well as it keeps things distinct and of a flavour unique to the property it is based on, and thus, uniquely Irish. This is an example of a film that derives much from its own artifice, and as such, there is a certain amount of credibility, and authenticity to this feature. Roger Ebert muses that The Secret of Kells "is a little like an illuminated manuscript itself. Just as every margin of the Book of Kells is crowded with minute and glorious decorations, so is every shot of the film filled with patterns and borders, arches and frames, do-dads and scrimshaw images. The colors are bold and bright; the drawings are simplified and 2-D. That reflects the creation of the original book in the centuries before the discovery of perspective during the Renaissance." (Ebert, 2010) and continuing this discussion, "As for the look, imagine the flat abstractions of nature found in Celtic manuscripts and jewelry coming alive on the screen.  The film has a design that sets it apart from art from other parts of the world.  It is as distinctive looking as Persian miniatures or traditional Japanese block prints." (Cohen, 2010). In acknowledging these guiding principles in the overall look of the film it is impossible for it's roots not to be felt in every watch. And that's just the imagery.

Fig 3.
The choice to source an Irish voice cast also adds to the authenticity felt here, to the extent where sometimes lines can get lost in the mix to the unfamiliar ear. Yes, accents don't give way to accessibility, for to do so would sully what is effectively a cultural curio. In essence, the fact that this is Irish is intrinsic, and something that is felt on every watch. Marking out "The Secret of Kells" as an important first feature film for this studio, perhaps having some semblance of importance that "Toy Story" (1995) held for Pixar.


Connelly, Brendon. (2015) "Wolfwalkers: first pics of new film" denofgeek.com At: http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/wolfwalkers/250459/wolfwalkers-first-pics-of-new-film (Accessed 19/05/17)

Cohen, Karl. (2010) "'The Secret of Kells' - What is this Remarkable Animated Feature?" awn.com At: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/secret-kells-what-remarkable-animated-feature (Accessed 19/05/17)

Ebert, Roger. (2010) "The Secret of Kells review" rogerebert.com. At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-secret-of-kells-2010 (Accessed 19/05/17)


Fig 1. The Secret of Kells Poster. [image] At: http://www.impawards.com/2010/posters/secret_of_kells_ver2.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

Fig 2. The boy and the spirit. [image] At: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/the_secret_of_kells_movie_image-1.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

Fig 3. The Raid. [image] At: http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/the_secret_of_kells_movie_image-9.jpg (Accessed 19/05/17)

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