Animation and Anime

An Early Look At Distinctive Animated Film The Secret of Kells - US Premiere This Weekend

Published at: July 17, 2009, 7:39 a.m. CST by scottgreen

Hi, AICN Anime's Scott Green here a head-up's an intriguing animated film. This weekend NYICFF will be presenting the US Premiere of Tomm Moore's The Secret of Kells. Screenings of this film from the producers of Kirikou and the Sorceress and Triplets of Belleville will held at New York's IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third, Sat & Sun, July 18 & 19, 11:00am. The 95 minute film will be shown and English and is recommended ages 6 to adult. Tickets available here.
Ain't It Cool News is fortunate to able to present a guest review by Jeremy W. Kaufmann, of the sharp and irreverent online audio show Destroy All Podcasts DX, and electro punk band Violence Mars. So, without further ado, Jeremy W. Kaufmann's early look at The Secret of Kells...

It is all too easy to glance at The Secret of Kells and dismiss it as a combination of typical Walt Disney and Cartoon Network, but that is doing the film a grave disservice. The animation, in broad terms, is similar to the style popularized by Genndy Tartakovsky in projects like Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack. It has the same flat look that harkens back to the Jay Ward cartoons of old, and like Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars series, The Secret of Kells has a lot of digital animation. The big difference is that this film is even more stylized and incredibly ornate. It also frequently slips into abstraction so the film can dwell on pure design and it seems like everything is covered with Celtic knots and graceful little swirls. The amount of detail packed into every background is stunning and contrasts sharply with the spartan character design. The plot may appear a bit familiar at first. How many Disney cartoons star an orphan child with a stern adoptive parent, an animal sidekick and a magical friend? But only on the surface is this movie traditional. Brendan is a boy on the cusp of puberty living at the Abbey of Kells in medieval Ireland. The Abbot of Kells, Brendan's gruff uncle, raises the boy, with some help from a goofy retinue of monks. But this is where things swing towards the unusual. Marauding vikings have been tearing through the British Isles and everyone knows they are on their way. The Abbot's plan is to build big stone walls around Kells to protect the monks, the villagers and especially Brendan, who he has forbidden to leave the grounds. The constant threat of viking invasion lends the film an air of paranoia complete with apocalyptic visions that is very compelling and totally unexpected in a movie for kids. Brendan's day to day life of growing up and helping out in the Abbey is interrupted when the friendly, inspiring Brother Aidan arrives carrying The Book, an extravagantly engraved masterpiece of religious art. Aidan encourages the enthusiastic but shy Brendan to come out of his shell, embrace his creativity, and defy his bossy, joyless uncle. This journey from excitable child to master artist is just fine to hang the film on, but it is a little thin. Brendan's friend Aisling, the magical forest spirit, is fun and Brother Aidan is definitely charismatic and entertaining, but the main plot is still spare. Some of the subtext is pretty clever. Aisling represents the joy and innocence of youth, and once Brendan grows up he can't really see her any longer. It is odd that while they bring up the fact that Aisling and her serpentine foe represent Celtic mythology, this somehow doesn't really affect Brendan's Christianity. Kudos to the movie for including both Christianity and the Celtic myths, but it's weird to see them coexist without the film commenting on it. Then again, the movie clearly shows us that Aisling's magic is real and at no point does the Christian god intervene, so perhaps it is making a stance after all. I also find it interesting that disobeying his uncle is proven to be the correct course of action. While there's a definite "follow your heart" message here, I wonder about the "ignore your parents" message. Then again, Brendan is twelve years old, so maybe they were going for youthful rebellion. I noticed that the film curiously has two MacGuffins: the unfinished Book of Kells and the crystal Brendan needs to steal from the snaky villain before he can complete said book. Brendan's battle for the crystal is strangely abstract and the subtext of defeating your fears through creativity and confidence is great. This is not a Disney style "kill that bad guy and rescue the girl" movie. That said, the movie feels strangely anticlimactic because that fight is not the end and the Brendan just runs from the vikings. The plot and its structure may not bowl me over, but I like the message and the undertones. The score by French composer Bruno Coulais is atmospheric and suitably Irish-sounding, and the voice work is good too. They smartly cast actors who are actually children to play children and as a bonus, Evan McGuire (Brendan) and Christen Mooney (Aisling) are decent actors. But really, the story, the music, and the acting are all secondary to the absolutely brilliant animation. That is why you want to see this film. Whether it's an abstract, Tron-like battle with an evil snake or an attack by Aisling's monster wolves, the movie always finds very creative ways to show it. Director Tomm Moore has created the kind of movie where you want to keep stopping it to admire the many elaborate layers that nearly every frame is loaded with. Fabrice Ziolkowski's screenplay may not bowl you over, but this movie is an absolute triumph of design. This is the kind of film where a montage plays out in a triptych! The Secret of Kells never talks down to kids, and while I'm not sure children will appreciate the incredible art, the story is accessible and fun, if scary at points. Children will certainly enjoy the film, but the rich visuals are an adult's reward.

Readers Talkback

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  • July 17, 2009, 7:40 a.m. CST

    First-It's like PowerPuff Girls-Hell Yeah!

    by Mr.LordBronco

    Sweet!

  • July 17, 2009, 7:42 a.m. CST

    But Where's Christian Bale?

    by Mr.LordBronco

    Oh-Yeah he's covered exclusively at Ain't It Bale News!

  • July 17, 2009, 7:42 a.m. CST

    yerg

    by Cletus Van Damme

    Not sure about this one

  • July 17, 2009, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Please no "Show My Breasts For Attention Girl" this weekend!

    by NeilF

  • July 17, 2009, 7:57 a.m. CST

    The actual Book of Kells is a bit of let down.

    by V'Shael

    So if the movie is an Irish version of powder puff boys with catholic monks, it's probably an improvement.

  • July 17, 2009, 8 a.m. CST

    "The actual Book of Kells is a bit of let down"

    by the ageless stranger

    You're an idiot.

  • July 17, 2009, 8:02 a.m. CST

    Shit then with made up review points to sell it.

    by EvilWizardGlick

    Reads that way to me.

  • July 17, 2009, 8:12 a.m. CST

    So this is where Kim Possible went.

    by Snookeroo

    Who knew Ron would become a monk?

  • July 17, 2009, 8:18 a.m. CST

    "The actual Book of Kells is a bit of let down"

    by Semen Stains

    Hands down the dumbest thing i have ever read on this site.

  • July 17, 2009, 8:31 a.m. CST

    Repeating something ad infinitum

    by GetEveryone

    does not a meme make.

  • July 17, 2009, 8:32 a.m. CST

    or does it?

    by GetEveryone

  • July 17, 2009, 8:55 a.m. CST

    The actual book of Kells IS a let down.

    by V'Shael

    Sorry to break it you guys, but yeah, it is. <p> As an Irish kid, you hear about this book like it's some great fucking treasure. More famous than the Ardagh chalice. Fucking hell, in second class (equivalent to 4th grade US) our english text book for the year was *all* about the book of kells. <p> So when we finally went to see it as part of a class tour a few years later ( I was about 10 ) we were all expecting something major. <p> It's the biblical gospels, under glass, with some drawings. Big fucking whoop. <p> I don't know a single Irish person who could give a flying fuck whether the book of kells was used as toilet paper or not.

  • July 17, 2009, 8:56 a.m. CST

    Done with Blender and Linux

    by zinc_chameleon

    Yes, studio types! The software used for this animated feature was free open-source! That's two for the Geeks!

  • July 17, 2009, 9:03 a.m. CST

    V'Shael

    by the ageless stranger

    "I don't know a single Irish person who could give a flying fuck whether the book of kells was used as toilet paper or not." I'm Irish, and as I said, you're an idiot.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:24 a.m. CST

    @ageless stranger

    by V'Shael

    I'll admit to being an idiot about plenty of stuff. But you're the first person I know who gives a fuck about that biblical bog roll.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:33 a.m. CST

    Please no "Posting For Attention Boy" this week!

    by vanderdeken

  • July 17, 2009, 9:34 a.m. CST

    Please no NeilF "Posting For Attention Boy" this week!

    by vanderdeken

  • July 17, 2009, 9:35 a.m. CST

    I Like It

    by Cobbio

    Looks like a pretty cool movie. Thanks, Scott, for the review. Any film that pushes stylization in animation, especially if it's influenced by Tartakovsky's work, grabs my interest.<p> Hopefully I'll be able to take my nephews to see this.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Um, V'Shael...

    by Balcony Fool

    The book is on display, under glass, and your entire second year English was devoted to studying it? Doesn't all this information sort of fly in the face of your assertion that nobody gives a fuck about it? Use your head, sonny, and while you're at it, work on that narcissism. Just because you're not interested in illuminated manuscripts, it doesn't mean no one else is.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:53 a.m. CST

    V'Shael "Bless him father for he knows not...

    by Chaplins_tache

    ..What the fuck he is talking about. It's an amazing book , not that it's not something that you can easily read the writing is so antiquated and intricate. The book is on diplay in Trinity College in Dublin. If you ever get a chance to visit the college, go have a look where will notice something stange about the actual book. For some reason the 1000+ year old manuscript has completly clean machined corners. If you ask the caretakers about it they get rather embarrased for the reason. In the 1950's (or 60's, i forget) it was sent to Amsterdam to be restored and photographed for posterity. Some bright spark, who was probaly a little bit stoned from the previous nights excursions, CROPPED THE CORNERS OFF THE FUCKING BOOK and threw away the excess! Muppets doesn't quite cover it, does it? On a personal note, i was in college witht the guys who came up with the cartoon, and they spent 10 long hard years getting it to the screen. From what i hear it's been well recieved at annecy in France! Well done lads and lassies, let's hope the sequel if any doesn't take as long.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:53 a.m. CST

    @Balcony Fool

    by V'Shael

    You fail at reading comprehension, clearly. <p> Our english *text book* was devoted to it. Not the entire second year. <p> Specifically the book was like an Irish version of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs court. It involved an irish kid going back in time. It featured such historical items as the Tara Brooch as well as the book of kells. <p> The point being that in all the hard sell about how fucking wonderful it was, the *actual* book is, basically, shit. <p> When they made a reprint of it a few years ago, so anyone could buy one? Didn't exactly fly off the book shelves, let me tell you.

  • July 17, 2009, 9:58 a.m. CST

    @Chaplins_tache

    by V'Shael

    Alright, I'll bite. If you think it's so amazing, just answer me this. Why? <p> Why is it so fucking amazing? <p> Is it the age? There's older stuff in museums.<br> Is it the art? Personally, I'm not impressed by the artwork.<br> Is it the content? Are the gospels really that interesting in ANY language?<br> What is it, exactly, that makes it an amazing book? Aside from the fact that it survived the Vikings, but not the Dutch apparently.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:01 a.m. CST

    @V'Shael

    by Balcony Fool

    "You fail at reading comprehension, clearly. Our english *text book* was devoted to it. Not the entire second year."<P> Divert! Divert! <P> Pardon me, then, for misspeaking. My point stands, however. Obviously, a fair number of people give a fuck about the Book of Kells. You're just not one of 'em.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:04 a.m. CST

    V'shael

    by Chaplins_tache

    Mate, if you don't like the damn thing, that's fine by me. One less person in the queue next time i go to see it. To save you time typing, here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells If you can't understand why a book that has lasted over a 1000 years in relativley good nick, scars along the way notwithstanding is not considerd of value, nothing i'm gonna say here is gonna help. Waitaminnit. Were you shite at history?

  • July 17, 2009, 10:10 a.m. CST

    the art of the Book of Kells.....

    by Righteous Brother

    would be greatly improved if it was by Rob Liefield.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:13 a.m. CST

    The actual Stonehenge is a bit of a letdown...

    by Righteous Brother

    I went to Stonehenge, and it was just a big pile of rocks.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:16 a.m. CST

    @RighteousBrother

    by Balcony Fool

    LOL!

  • July 17, 2009, 10:19 a.m. CST

    @RighteousBrother

    by Chaplins_tache

    Agreed on both points! <salute>

  • July 17, 2009, 10:20 a.m. CST

    Picasso's "Guernica" is a let down.

    by Balcony Fool

    Personally, I'm not impressed by the artwork. "Last Supper," either. Or "Starry Night."

  • July 17, 2009, 10:29 a.m. CST

    Da Vinci Notebooks

    by Chaplins_tache

    bit of a scribbler really. Had a good line in codes now that i think about it ..

  • July 17, 2009, 10:34 a.m. CST

    Pieta?

    by Monkey Butler

    Too small. <p> Statue of David? Just some guy with a small dick. <p> Botecelli's Birth of Venus? Yeah it's big, but who really cares?

  • July 17, 2009, 10:35 a.m. CST

    Botticelli

    by Monkey Butler

    Probably should have double-checked the spelling if I was gonna be a smartarse.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:47 a.m. CST

    I went to Machu Picchu......

    by Righteous Brother

    it was rubbish, at least the Elmsleigh Shopping centre in Staines has a pizza hut.

  • July 17, 2009, 10:54 a.m. CST

    RighteousBrother

    by Chaplins_tache

    Sometime in the next week or two, V'shael's rapier wit is gonna kick in and he's going to KILL us with an absolutely devastating comeback line. I'm cacking myself!! Oh, and that Pizza Hut in the Elmsleigh Shopping centre does do a fantastic pizza! Machu Picchu- pah! I SPIT ON IT!

  • July 17, 2009, 10:57 a.m. CST

    Most bizarre, esoteric talkback EVER

    by Anything But Tangerines

    I'm going to pretend I never saw this...

  • July 17, 2009, 11 a.m. CST

    I'm not PAYING to see Flash

    by FeralAngel

    Sorry, but if I'm coughing up 10 bucks to see a film, it had better be lush full 2D animation or CGI that's at least Pixar level. I feel ripped off at the movies enough as it is.

  • July 17, 2009, 11:07 a.m. CST

    FeralAngel

    by Chaplins_tache

    Fair point sir! However, Flash is the only real practical choice for a small budget studio. To be clear about this movie, the vast majority is drawn in the traditional way- you don't want to go animating in flash at a classical level. I's mainly used as a line quality and colouring device. Disney phased out tradional cel painting over the years, their first real experiment, which was a success, was on the "Rescuers Down Under" back in 1990. I've done cell painting a loonng time ago. It's a haorribly underappreciated and painstaking skill, and i'm glad to see consigned to the history books. Will this movie be up to Disney/ Pixar production standards? Not a hope. But from the bits i've seen the budget doesn't hinder the scope of the ideas.

  • July 17, 2009, 11:48 a.m. CST

    i love AICN

    by Bouncy X

    someone says they dont like the book and they are called names and attacked for it. how dare they have their own opinion, how dare it not be like your own....BURN THEM!!! lol

  • July 17, 2009, 11:59 a.m. CST

    Bouncy X

    by Chaplins_tache

    I personally had no problem with the guy not liking the book, have a check. I had a problem when he decided what all people from Ireland didn't like it either. Bit of a generalisation there IMO. Come the revolution i'm sure i'll be amongst the first to be put against the wall!

  • July 17, 2009, 12:20 p.m. CST

    check trailer and spectacular images at the film site

    by pipergates

    the images posted here dont really do the film much credit.

  • July 17, 2009, 12:42 p.m. CST

    Not Paying to see Flash?

    by Monkey Butler

    So when you see animated movies you only go for the visuals? How about instead of paying to watch a Flash animation you pay to watch a good story, well told? Ever see Waltz with Bashir? One of the absolute best films of last year, and it was made with Flash.

  • July 17, 2009, 4:19 p.m. CST

    I was gonna mention kelis, but that art is good.

    by ironic_name

  • July 17, 2009, 4:42 p.m. CST

    Nice one Chaplins_tache!

    by Righteous Brother

    I salute you sir.

  • July 17, 2009, 5:27 p.m. CST

    An orphaned child has fuck all to do with Disney

    by Dingbatty

    in a fairy tale.<p>Lost and Found: The Orphaned Hero in Myth, Folklore, and Fantasy by Terri Windling<p>http://tinyurl.com/2qlpbo

  • July 17, 2009, 5:39 p.m. CST

    Irish man here

    by vadakinX

    Um...I don't remember which exactly...I think it was Transformers 2...but this movie came out in Ireland on the same day as a major blockbuster and was completely crushed. <p> I couldn't tell you if it was good or bad because frankly I had no interest in it, this coming from an aspiring screen writer who wants to adapt some of Irelands great myth for the big screen. <p> I remember watching the trailers for it and it came off as a low budget 20 minute toddlers cartoon only a feature. I guess kids may like it and those with a real interest in animation may like the distinct style but if it didn't do well in the country the story is based and came from, it kinda says a lot. <p> Having said all that, I kind of wish I had gone to see this instead of Transformers 2.

  • July 17, 2009, 5:55 p.m. CST

    Oh and I've seen the book

    by vadakinX

    It's much more than just a Bible with pictures. Every picture, every letter of text. was done by hand. It truly is a masterpiece (and is probably Scottish...oops) <p> Also, interesting trivia...the Irish aren't Celts...never were. Some Kelts traded with the Irish and settled but there was never any mass invasion. <p> Another interesting piece of trivia...an Irish man, St. Brendan the Voyager, is said to have sailed to a land far to the west of Ireland, a place believed to be North America, which would make him, and not the Vikings, the discoverer of that land if true. <p> More Irish trivia...in New York City, people of many nationalities and creeds celebrate St. Patricks Day even though it is the feast day of a Christian saint. The first St. Patricks Day parade in Ireland was put together by Protestants. <p> Also, the island of Ireland hasn't actually been united under a single Irish banner since Brian Boru conquered and united the tribes in the 11th Century AD. meaning that the war in Northern Ireland was for a return to something that hadn't existed for a thousand years. <p> One final piece of Irish trivia...any "Irish" gang members in Boston need to stop calling themselves Irish because they're not :P

  • July 17, 2009, 6:22 p.m. CST

    next you'll be telling me House of Pain...

    by Righteous Brother

    aren't Irish! Where do you think the original Irish people came from, out of interest?

  • July 18, 2009, 3:35 a.m. CST

    House of Pain AREN'T Irish

    by vadakinX

    Sure, Jump Around is a catchy song but if you ever actually listen to the lyrics, there's so many Irish stereotypes there it's unbelievable. Ford (doesn't he call himself Everlast now or something?) is American. There's more to being Irish than waving a tricolour and saying "slainte". <p> As for where the Irish came from, well Ireland has seen invasions from England and incursions from the Vikings and yes, a couple of kelts who settled. But the original Irish, or at least the those who settled here after the last Ice Age, hailed from the Iberian regions. <p> Iron Age Ireland traded copper, tin and gold with Britain and Europe and it's trading with the tribes that we call the Kelts that gave Ireland the distinct style of ornaments its known for. Some settled in Ireland but there was never an invasion. <p> The Vikings also never invaded. There were some attacks on port towns but ultimately what happened was that the Vikings settled down, married Irish people and that was it. <p> Then there's the English...but that's a story for another day. haha

  • July 18, 2009, 4:52 a.m. CST

    Uh......yeah...I was joking about...

    by Righteous Brother

    the House of Pain thing.

  • July 18, 2009, 7:40 a.m. CST

    and the Normans.

    by foree forehead

    don't forget the Normans

  • July 19, 2009, 6:11 p.m. CST

    Im irish V'Shael,sorry to break it to you...

    by Semen Stains

    And we would care if it was used for fucking toilet paper,ive viewed the book a number of times and to me its a masterpiece as it is to many other people,your entitled to your own opinion and all but damn....

  • July 20, 2009, 8:46 a.m. CST

    The Book of Kells bathroom companion

    by Shpadoinkle

    'Now with more scutter inducing awfulness' Look hard. Wipe hard.

  • July 24, 2009, 2:27 p.m. CST

    Book of Kells

    by Lang The Cat

    I have seen the book only on the web. I did buy two different printing of the book for my wife. As she is an artist who specializes in knotwork, she reacted as if I had bought her diamond jewelry.<br> V'Shael, consider being able to spend $150 on a couple of nice books and be treated as if you had spent $3,000-$4,000 on jewelry. Maybe the book isn't so stupid. Maybe you just haven't met the right people. <br> I know when this filn comes to Southern California (or even Nevada) I will make certain to take my wife to see it. She will doubtlessly go wild for it and I will rack up mad points for being a considerate husband.

  • July 24, 2009, 2:28 p.m. CST

    Damn Typos

    by Lang The Cat

    Okay, I lose points for typos.