Ain't It Cool News (
Animation and Anime

Quint takes in crazy Irish fairy tale THE SECRET OF KELLS, nominated for Best Animated Picture!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little look at Irish animated flick THE SECRET OF KELLS. As most of you know by this point this film was a surprise nomination in the Animated Films category of this year’s Oscars. I’m sure most of you were like me when you heard the nominations… Fantastic Mr. Fox! Up! Coraline! The Secret of Kells! Princess and the Fro… wait, go back one… what the hell is a Secret of Kells? I consider myself fairly up on films and am pretty knowledgeable about what’s been buzzing around even when it comes to foreign flicks, but in all my film festing and movie watching THE SECRET OF KELLS completely flew under my radar. So when I saw it on the Santa Barbara Film Festival schedule I was very excited to be able to actually give it a watch. I’ve seen all the other nominated movies in that category, so now I can collect the whole set!

Basically THE SECRET OF KELLS is a fantasy retelling of the origin of the legendary Book Of Kells, one of mankind’s best examples of calligraphy and a truly beautiful work of art. Transcribed and illustrated by Celtic monks the writing is the New Testament, but what sets this particular bible apart from the others is its intricate Insular art. Set in the abbey of Kells the movie focuses on a young Irish boy named Brendan (Evan McGuire), nephew of the strict Abbot Cellach (voiced by the great Brendan Gleeson) who is tutored by the most respected calligrapher Aiden against the wishes of the dickish Abbot. The dude is doing what he thinks best, but becomes overprotective, ditching the illuminating power of art and words for the security of cold, hard stone. See, the Vikings are tearing up this particular part of the world and the Abbot is bound and determined to keep his village safe by erecting a wall. He leaves the scribes to their work, but everybody else spends all day constructing this giant wall. As usual, the wall proves to be just as much a cage keeping the inhabitants in as it is a protection from those without. You can’t really blame the Abbot, though. The Vikings are shown to be inhuman behemoths, almost Satanic demons from hell…

Scary fuckers and when they eventually get to Abbey Kells… well, it isn’t exactly kiddie material. I wouldn’t say it’s graphic, but it goes much harsher than I expected. The style of the movie is something of a mix between Genndy Tartakovsky, Hanna-Barbera and Miyazaki. Tartakovsky in design, Hanna-Barbera in style and Miyazaki in tone… especially when we get to the section of the movie that has Brendan exploring the woods outside the wall, against his Uncle’s wishes, of course. While out there he meets a white sprite shown as either a white wolf or a little girl who has powers over the forest. Very Miyazaki.

But what I liked the most about the movie was just how fluid this style worked. I don’t think it was hand drawn… it has that Tartakovsky computer animation feel that keeps the flatness of cel animation. Directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey go very stylized with the animation and somehow make it both incredibly complicated and simple. It’s hard to explain, but when you see it you’ll understand. The Secret of Kells is a beautiful film, especially for animation lovers, and I really enjoyed the fairy tale story aspect of it all, but I wouldn’t say I had the same emotional connection to it that I did with Pixar’s UP or the pure enjoyment of something like FANTASTIC MR. FOX. But I’m happy the Academy threw it in the mix. This film would have certainly slipped through the cracks if the Oscar spotlight hadn’t been shone on it. Hopefully this means the film will be sought out and enjoyed. It deserves an audience and I think for some viewers it could very well be their favorite of the animated films nominated if for nothing else than the daring and somewhat experimental animation style. Here’s a look at how varied the animation is in the film… there are scenes that feel like they’re out of Disney’s Donald in Mathmagicland and some that feel like they come right out of the pages of The Book of Kells itself.

The flick hits all points… at times it’s light as a feather, at times it’s dark as night. The real trick is hitting those two extremes without feeling like it’s trying to be too many things at once. The balance is just right, though, so when the tone shifts you’re along for the ride. I hope this gets out a bit wider than festivals… IMDB lists a March release date from a Distributor called Gkids. Not sure what that’s all about, but it’d be great for this quaint, different, beautiful Irish fairy tale to get in front of some wide-eyed kids.

Tomorrow brings the writer’s panel featuring Hurt Locker’s Mark Boal, Up’s Pete Docter, Precious’ Geoffrey Fletcher, Star Trek’s Alex Kurtzman, It’s Complicated’s Nancy Meyers, 500 Days of Summer’s Scott Neustadter, Up In The Air’s Jason Reitman and Inglourious Basterds’ Quentin Tarantino. Oh, and James Cameron’s big 2 hour spotlight event. Big day! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:23 a.m. CST


    by peterclay65

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:33 a.m. CST

    I saw it last night

    by blackwood

    Blown away. One of the most beautiful animated films I've ever seen. At times it's almost cubist. The design is very conscious of its subject. It's definitely my favourite of the bunch - and I also hadn't heard about it before the nominations. Score one for the Academy.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:40 a.m. CST


    by kwisatzhaderach

    What glorious insights will he be passing onto wannabe writers?

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:41 a.m. CST

    Kells looks great by the way.

    by kwisatzhaderach

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:46 a.m. CST

    The real book of Kells

    by V'Shael

    I don't remember it being that big a deal. I think every Irish school kid is dragged along to see it at some point on a school trip. <p> Ironically, an Oscar nominated movie might make kids think "Oh, there's the book that that movie was based on!" and give it some more relevance to them.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 4:13 a.m. CST

    It was released in 2009...just not in the US

    by vadakinX

    Also, I may be wrong, but the book itself may have actually been made off the coast of Scotland (Iona I believe) though my Irish history is a little vague when it comes to that era so don't take my word for it.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 4:26 a.m. CST

    Watched the movie last night...

    by McJakeG

    It really wasn't too special. The animation really only looks like a cross between clone wars and Kim Possible. I feel like it just got nominated because it is in 2d. Wish cloudy was in there...

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 5:17 a.m. CST

    I live near kells

    by There_will_be_Dickblood

    It is a terrible shite hole. Nothing to do. Full of knackers. Somewhere to stop for a bottle of coke and an ice cream on the way to Dublin.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 6:08 a.m. CST

    I was raised in meath...

    by emeraldboy

    there is campaign to get the book of kells back to kells. I was listnening to a debate on this the other day. here is my point of view. Book of kells is tourist attraction in trinity college Dublin. That is revenue stream for the University and they will die before they give it up the source of income. People of kells argue you could bring on tour in a van or something. that wont work either. The book of kells will be in trinity for a long time to come. unless they hand it over to the national library of ireland or the national gallery. but I dont see that happening. lawyers would have to get involved in three way deal and it would end up in court, if trinity thought that they were being screwed.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 6:13 a.m. CST

    there will be dick blood

    by emeraldboy

    and I live in dublin. Best thing ever to navan was the bypass. why? cause you can now bypass navan completely! boom boom.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 6:52 a.m. CST

    Dublin film Festival

    by Buffalo500

    this was the closing film of last years Dublin International Film Festival, I did not go as I was knackered from 30 plus films and also I just don't dig animated films that much. By the way this years festival is starting soon, some cool sounding Korean flicks showing including Mother

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:02 a.m. CST

    dublin film festival..

    by emeraldboy

    wont be the same without micheal dywer. his passion for films, his knowledge and energy will missed.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:07 a.m. CST

    kim possible

    by jameskpolk

    I laughed at the Kim Possible comment. It even has the rodent sidekick!

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:16 a.m. CST

    When I saw the list of nominated films...

    by emeraldboy

    My reaction was disney will split the vote. they are nominated in two different categories. but with the same film. up. up is in both the best pic category and best animated pic with the princess and the frog. Kells doesnt have a hope.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:17 a.m. CST

    that is the real story of the oscar nominations

    by emeraldboy

    nobody is talking about that.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:21 a.m. CST


    by Buffalo500

    I know what you mean, the dedication and passion he showed in setting up the festival a few years ago after it had fallen on hard times was awesome. I'm sure opening night will be a sad affair in some ways but in another way will be great, Neil Jordan and Colin Farrel in Dublin showing their new film to open the festival is exactly what Michael Dwyer would have loved.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:47 a.m. CST

    This looks really beautiful...

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    ...but I still feel Miyazaki got shafted for Ponyo. As much as I liked The Princess & The Frog, I would have reluctantly left if off the nominee list in favor of Ponyo.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:51 a.m. CST

    The Secret of Kells is definitely the best animated

    by Periphery

    movie of the year. Light years better than UP, which is just shmaltzy pablum. It's the Larry the Cable guy of animation, catering to the idiotic masses.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:56 a.m. CST

    I've been tracking this one forever. I think TWITCH...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...ran a trailer back in 08. Can't wait.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 7:58 a.m. CST

    ...and for the record, SAMURAI JACK is traditionally...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...animated. The various elements are assembled on a computer of course, but the backgrounds are hand painted and the animation is drawn with a pencil on paper.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 8:28 a.m. CST

    Shouldn't this be called..

    by Zardozap2005

    ..."The Tartakovsky-less Secret of Kells"? Just like he's had nothing to do with Star Wars for a couple of years now, yet you keep refering to him whenever The Clone Wars is brought up? Just sayin...

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 8:29 a.m. CST

    Looks fantastic otherwise...

    by Zardozap2005

    Out of all the other noms, I really want to see this one. Looks very cool.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 8:41 a.m. CST

    I can't wait to see this, eventually

    by SoylentMean

    That looks really frickin' good. Not enough Irish cartoons out there.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:07 a.m. CST

    The secret of kells is

    by There_will_be_Dickblood

    people there fuck their sisters

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:13 a.m. CST

    Congrats on the nomination Tom!

    by PaddyIrishman

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:28 a.m. CST


    by FreeBeer

    I think it's fair enough that Quint compared the style to Tartakovsky, because he is not comparing it to the awful Clone Wars CGI series, but to Tartakovsky's 2.D animated Clone Wars series (infinitly superior). And Up is going to win this obviously, I mean, it is the only one that was also nominated for best picture, so obviously the judges concider it to be the best.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:32 a.m. CST

    The Guys That Made This Also Made Skunk FU!

    by FreeBeer

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:42 a.m. CST

    i just want Cameron to say at the 2hr event: "Battle Angel"

    by future help

    is next.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:44 a.m. CST

    RESPECT to Samurai Jack.

    by future help

    Love Tartakovsky. He and Cameron should co-direct an action adventure together. YEAH! make it happen!

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 9:54 a.m. CST

    ...I'd love to see what Tartakovsky could do with CONAN...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...I'd rather he do his own thing, but a Tartakovsky CONAN is something I'd like to put my eyeballs on.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 10:13 a.m. CST

    ...what's he up to these days anyway? I keep hearing...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...rumors of a SAMURAI JACK movie...the on again, off again POWER OF THE DARK CRYSTAL...some new show called Sym-Bionic Titan...what's the story?

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 10:44 a.m. CST

    RIP Ian Carmichael......

    by I_am_Torgo

    ...British acting icon. Dies at 89.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 11:02 a.m. CST

    the irsh did well in the noms this year...

    by emeraldboy

    Brown bag films for granny o grim, cartoon Saloon for The secret of kells, richard benenam who was headedhunted by cameron from Weta to work on Avatar. Richie is a graduate from Ballyfermot senior college as our daragh O connell and I have a relative who studied there too.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 11:09 a.m. CST

    i liked the animation style

    by Gungan Slayer

    When I read the nominations, I immediately had to go look this up on youtube. I've never heard of, and I'm usually up to speed on what's coming and being developed. Looks fun. Doubt there will ever be a chance for most of us to see it though.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 12:11 p.m. CST

    Frozen river..

    by emeraldboy

    didnt get a release for about six months after its us release. American movie studios really hate the press. so much so that they dont even bother giving a press preview these days. it took ten years for thom moore and cartoon saloon to bring the secret of kells to the big screen.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 12:13 p.m. CST

    I saw this and I seriously disagree with Quint

    by Lang The Cat

    Now first off, I desperately wanted to see this film. My wife is a professional calligrapher and illuminator, and it was a must see for me. While much of what Quint says is true, the film just isn't that good. Mostly because the villians (the Vikings) are one dimensional, mostly just shadows. Without a good villian, you look to the struggle between the abbot and Aiden, the calligrapher for conflict. Since the abbot is at worst "dickish" in Quint's words, and at best misguided because of his concerns about the impending invasion by the vikings, the conflict is about as dynamic as a baloney sandwich with mayonnaise. It is less exciting than The Brothers Grim. True, it does have some very nice, inspiring pieces and a bit of nice music (though most of the music is quite tame) taken as a whole, I am doubtful of even buying the dvd, except as an art reference. I would think most kids would have found it too boring to watch. Ponyo had much more excitement even though it was clearly for a much younger audience.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Quint, it's almost completely hand drawn.

    by grungies

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Lang the Cat, what do you Mean?

    by grungies

    None of those things you mentioned were the villain of this story. The villain is Brendan himself, indebted to the abbey and unwilling to question his misguided beliefs in how to fend off the vikings (who are the ticking clock, not the villain). It's his courage to break out of that which leads to redemption for him and the abbey.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 1:09 p.m. CST


    by Harry Weinstein

    "Despite how good this film is, it shouldn't have been nominated for 'Best Animated Picture' in 2009, simply because it wasn't released in 2009"<p><p>Bullshit - it got a limited release in a couple of US theaters in December in order to qualify for the Oscars and it had already had a theatrical run overseas.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 1:45 p.m. CST

    This isn't the R. Kelly biopic?

    by turketron_2


  • Typical Christian bullshit, and the only thing going through my mind when i saw the list of Noms for animated pics was wheres Ponyo?!?!?!?!? i can't believe a Miyazaki film didn't get a nom, its Blasphemy :P

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 2:01 p.m. CST

    this movie is racist bullshit

    by ieatgarbage

    fuck you!

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 2:02 p.m. CST

    I got to see this 6 months back...

    by poopoohumor

    ...or so. It was really good, although it did lag in parts. The best parts are the designs and the animation, both superb and different.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 2:08 p.m. CST



    Agrees with me, wheres Ponyo dern it?!

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 2:37 p.m. CST

    It'll lose to UP of course.

    by Orionsangels

    The Oscars are simple minded. Sappy Pixar film? Here ya go, take the Oscar.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:02 p.m. CST

    No dissing Clone Wars!

    by TheDudeinLA

    It is what I have been waiting for since the 80's! They really got it right.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:44 p.m. CST

    the restricted trailer for cop out is online

    by brabon300

    and is surprisingly funny....some of you are gonna have to suck smith's dick

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 3:53 p.m. CST

    "Pixar is the Larry the Cable Guy of animation"

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    There is SO much wrong with this statement, it's kind of staggering.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 4:12 p.m. CST

    kevin smith

    by ieatgarbage

    hasn't made a good film ever. he's approximated goodness one or two times but that's it. <p> I greatly prefer MI2, DINER, LAST ACTION HERO, SILVERADO, FAT CITY, and IN&OUT to anything Smith has ever done. <p> of course, what i listed were obviously influences on his "oeuvre". <p> do with my information what thou wilt. I will be here all day!

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 4:51 p.m. CST

    Why Kells Broke Through

    by Knute5

    For the record, Kells showed for the required number of days in a cheezy AMC Glendale theater in order to qualify as a 2009 film. What's more, it's been playing regularly at festivals. Nearly every animation studio screened it, and the Academy had screenings. And finally it played at the CTN Animation Expo last fall, where folks like Charles Solomon not only saw it and loved it, he got all over Public Radio and said as much. This was a film that LA animators (it screened up at Pixar too) totally dug, which is why it got the Oscar nom, and the Annie nom (award show is tonight). I think there were also a lot of people who felt like Tomm Moore wasn't getting a fair shake by the industry, who were tired of the "2D is dead!" crowd ceding animation to just the annual Disney formula film. Hand-drawn animation is an art form that shouldn't die. Kells is the only film that offered anything fresh and inspirational. No offense to the talented Disney crew, but "Princess and the Frog" has been done, and done and done before... Somebody's gotta carry the torch, and if it's a snarkly little studio in Kilkenney Ireland then so be it.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 5:12 p.m. CST

    Greatest trailer ever

    by theycallmemrtibbs

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 5:20 p.m. CST

    Sounds really cool actually..

    by Traumnovelle

    But is it better than Ponyo? Seriously, I want to know. Ponyo was fucking dope. Oh, and I saw the actual Book of Kells when I was in Dublin. True story. The art is ridiculous.

  • Feb. 6, 2010, 8:11 p.m. CST

    Kells had a VERY small budget, couldn't afford int'l release

    by Wookie_Weed

    Hence why it fucking deserves every nomination it got for the Academy Awards. To all the haters, crawl back up your arseholes and die. Kells ia absolutely stunning and deserves every award and recognition it gets.

  • Feb. 7, 2010, 7:06 a.m. CST

    You guys don't read Talkbacks, as I

    by Dingbatty

    and probably others have mentioned this movie through the past year.

  • Feb. 7, 2010, 7:48 a.m. CST

    A review of this movie that doesn't mention

    by FamousEccles

    Mick Lally is a waste of time.

  • Feb. 7, 2010, 12:58 p.m. CST

    mick lally is

    by emeraldboy

    a legend. but david kelly is pound for pound the finest irish actor of his generation. david kelly is by all irish actors as the very best irish actor of the latter half of the twentieth century.

  • Feb. 7, 2010, 1:03 p.m. CST

    My review

    by dbldwn66

  • Feb. 7, 2010, 5:57 p.m. CST

    I was on you tube...

    by emeraldboy

    this name will mean nothing outside Ireland. All countrys have thier insane geniuses. Who sparkle brightly for a while then disappear. Aiden walsh was irelands insane genius. master of the universe is great small gem of a movie. His legacy is temple bar music center. which is now the button factory. aiden walsh master of the universe is just great.

  • Feb. 8, 2010, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Story Might Be Great

    by Autodidact

    But I fucking hate Flash animation for the most part. It's so bloody flat. <p> Flash is the greatest tool ever for traditional cel animation. But I just fucking loathe this lazy style where everything looks like a damn paper cutout and you're always looking at a dozen instances of the same symbol.

  • Feb. 8, 2010, 1:28 p.m. CST

    The Secret of Kells is...

    by simhedges

    ... that it might have been written in Scotland (ssshh!) or England (double ssshh!). But nice book - if you are in Dublin, go and see it - and see the rest of Trinity College Library too: awesome building.

  • Feb. 9, 2010, 4:32 p.m. CST

    Aiden Walsh, eh?

    by Tony fucknuts

    Big dirty mullingar head on him. Ever see the Blizzard of Odd feature on that film he made? Priceless. I miss that program.

  • Feb. 9, 2010, 4:46 p.m. CST

    While we're here: Fatal Deviation

    by Tony fucknuts

    Possibly the strangest irish film ever made. A Kung fu revenge flick set in Trim starring a Boyzone and played completely seriously.

  • Feb. 15, 2010, 2:23 a.m. CST


    by TmvEqK

    pZzEdec <a href=" ">fDcUaD</a>

  • Feb. 15, 2010, 2:24 a.m. CST


    by TmvEqK

    tFUcpM <a href=" ">YfhUxFGv</a>

  • Feb. 27, 2010, 9:33 p.m. CST

    It is drawn by hand!

    by ztoical

    As someone who worked on the film just want to point out the film was animated by hand and coloured digitally. There are two small scenes done in flash [dream and the tale of Iona] and Crum is digital but the rest characters, layouts, effects, Backgrounds, done by hand.

  • March 14, 2010, 7:36 a.m. CST

    blizzard of odd..

    by emeraldboy

    was great for the first few years. I laughed my ass continously. thanks to colin murphys barbs and the weird and shoddy diy films people sent into the program. I loved his stuff on that show about early days of the afternoon shows. boxed depression he called it. I lvoed colin Murphy on the Panel in the beginning. he was the best thing on it long with andrew Maxwell. the show ran into the ground with the host went to the UK to host mcck the week