Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Secret of Kells

Film #238


The animated story of the boy behind the famed Book of Kells.

Year 1, Day 238

BEFORE: After I realized that the live-action Alice in Wonderland was both not on Netflix anymore and wouldn’t fit in with the animation chain (really, I don’t know what I was thinking), I needed to find a substitute. A brief shuffle of the schedule with some vetoes by by suitemates, the film that takes today’s slot is The Secret of Kells. This addition also adds a third non Disney/Pixar film to the chain and another Academy Award nominee. It was nominated in 2009 but lost to Up.

AFTER: The Secret of Kells was an interesting film to say the least. It’s unlike any of the other animated films I’ve seen thus far in the animation chain but the question is, is that good or bad? For the most part, the unique animation style compliments and in some ways benefits the equally unique story. But at the same time the bizarreness distracts and takes away from the experience. What do I mean by that? Read on to find out.

If you’re familiar with my previous reviews you’ll know that they tend to cover different elements of the films rather than follow a standard template. For these animated films, I’ve been covering characters and story as the two main points of critique. For The Secret of Kells I’ll be forgoing characters and instead I’ll focus solely on the animation style and the story.

The animation style is probably one, if not the, biggest attractions to this film. While not a direct comparison (there are many visual differences) the feel I got from The Secret of Kells matched the feel I got from Kirikou et la Sorcière, a film I saw in my AP French class. It’s hand drawn, 2D animation but it plays a lot with perspective and shapes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s abstract (à la Picasso) where objects start to become indistinguishable from what they actually are. But there’s some definite styling going on that gives the film its own look. The easiest thing to do to understand the visual style would be to watch the trailer. As I’ll get into shortly with the story, what I like most about this animation is that it has the feeling of an ancient legend; a story that’s passed on generation to generation and told to curious young children.

The great thing about that is it fits with the story: a fictionalized telling of the creation of the Book of Kells. It’s half a light-hearted kids film as Brendan (Evan McGuire) explores the forest, meets Aisling (Christen Mooney), and tries to do what he loves - create illuminated manuscripts. The other half is a more serious story about Vikings invading these people’s homes and the dark casting a shadow over all. But this broad view of the story overlooks some serious problems; it’s can be really confusing. Deeper comprehension might be solves through multiple viewings of the film, but on a first-viewing only I found myself just having to accept that stuff happens and move on. For example, it’s easy to understand that they are building a wall to keep out the Vikings, that Brendan is forbidden from going outside the wall, and that Brendan likes to disobey his uncle’s orders and continuing drawing in the books. But why the books/drawings are so important, what makes illuminators so special, and what the deal with Aisling is, remain total mysteries. Everything might be explained, there is quite a lot of exposition, but it’s not done in a very clear manner and leads to more confusion than entertainment.

All that being said about the story, when you look at The Secret of Kells through the animation, it’s relaxing; something where you can just sit back and let your mind wander. In other words, I can see both why the film was nominated for the Academy Award (it’s unique and impressive accomplishments visually) and why it failed to win (a story that’s nice on the surface but unclear with the details). It’s quality entertainment in the sense that it provides a reason to watch, but it doesn’t provide the complete picture as a film like its competitor Up does.

RATING: 4 out of 5