The Secret of Kells (2010)

Director:  Tomm Moore/Nora Twomey
Cast:  Evan McGuireBrendan Gleeson, Mick Lally

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

Genre:  Animation / Adventure / Fantasy
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Animated Feature.

Runtime:  75min
Rating:  PG 


"You can't find out everything from books, you know."

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: Pete Docter’s Up, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Henry Selick’s Coraline, and John Musker & Ron Clements’ The Princess and the Frog.

The Secret of Kells is 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.

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 realmic 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.  Perhaps this is the reason for the film’s inclusion in the list of nominees.

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.  Not the other way round.  Apparently, not enough material is written to develop the characters to a level that would surpass the visuals as the film’s main sustaining factor.

I have to also mention the music score used which is beautiful and serene, and composed by Bruno Coulais (Les Choristes, 2004).  In a nutshell, The Secret of Kells is worth a look for fans of the animation genre.  Some will find it delightful, but many others will wonder how Miyazaki’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008) got robbed of that last slot by this relatively poorer work.


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