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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » The Secret of Kells » User review

A beautifully hand-drawn take on Irish Mythology

  • Dec 11, 2010
*** out of ****

In a time where live-action filmmaking is getting worse and worse every week, Animated Films are our sole saviors to escape reality until a new Terry Gilliam film comes along. And as we all know, that won't be for a while. Some of the best animation comes from the hand-drawn beauty of more cartoonish animated features, which are becoming scarcer by the minute. It seems like it's either Miyazaki, Disney, or nothing at all when it comes to beautiful, hand-drawn animation. So one day, out of the blue, I hear of this peculiar film called "The Secret of Kells". I am informed that it is animated; it has the voice of Brendan Gleeson as one of its characters, and it has received critical acclaim from most popular critics. However, I needed to see it to believe it. So here we are; "The Secret of Kells". I must admit, this truly was unlike anything I've ever seen before from modern-day, popular animation. "The Secret of Kells" is a work of visual finesse and endless charm, rendering it a spectacular edition to 2009's awesome year of animated filmmaking. It may not be the best in the line-up, but it's not the runt of the litter. It looks just as beautiful as any of the 2009 animated features; perhaps it looks even better than some. "The Secret of Kells" boasts some of the most beautiful, unique animation in decades, and it never ceases to try to do something relatively new. It is not a beautiful film, as there was little emotional connection that I felt to anything, but it is movie magic plain and simple. It's short, sweet, and to the point. Well, perhaps it isn't sweet. I mean, sure; it's about a young boy who it entitled to the task of writing an ancient novel, but it's also a movie about war and demons who come in the form of brilliantly animated consolation eel. It is too dark for young children, but it would be better to show this to your kids than show them the better but more grotesquely humorous "Mary and Max". Long story short- this is a film for the entire family, if your family doesn't consist of any kids under ten. If that is so, then I advise you to sink in, for "The Secret of Kells" is a visually masterful edition to the world of animated filmmaking.

For all its worth, "The Secret of Kells" doesn't start as well as it ends. Yes, it does get better as it goes on, but the plot still feels like it's missing a couple pieces to the puzzle. At first, it kind of reminded me of an animated version of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village", although as it progressed it became "The Book of Eli" with Irish voice actors and spectacular visuals. It's like both of those movies except better. The story is this: A young village boy seeks life outside of his home. An outsider comes to the village and gives him that opportunity by asking him to go outside the village boundaries and into the forest, in order to collect some berries which he shall use for ink. The mysterious outsider is using the ink to write a book which holds the secrets of the universe, so to speak. The young lad ventures into the woods, encounters danger, and meets a fairy who helps him find what he seeks. However, a war between the outside world (consisting of an army of Vikings) and the village (consisting of an army of...people) helps to complicate things a little bit and make "The Secret of Kells" a decent piece of story-telling on its own. The mythological references help it a lot, but when it's all said and done, the story and characters are not as charming as the look of the film. I get the feeling that "The Secret of Kells" could have been even better if it weren't for its flaws, all of which rest within the plot. Otherwise, it's a film with little holding it back from all-out greatness. It's hard to forget an experience of such visual perfection, and this film understands how to correctly captivate the audience without making us feel cheated once the film is over. I felt as if it was time spent most wisely.

When I first watched the trailer for this film, I thought to myself, "So it looks beautiful, and yet they can't even pay decent money to get good voice actors? What the hell." I feel mislead. I conclude that while it's not a wonderful voice cast, it's not as ear-splittingly awful as I expected it would be. Even the younger voice talent on display could be called solid. Evan McGuire plays the protagonist by the name of Brendan. I felt that the tone of the voice was just right for a youthful, unassuming character such as Brendan. It's nothing wonderful, but it doesn't provoke me to run in fear due to a potential voice-acting massacre. Christen Mooney was also good as Aisling, the fairy. However, Brendan Gleeson is what really drove me to discover and want to see this. I admire Gleeson in the live-action world, and I wanted to see how good his voice was when it came to animation. As it turns out, his voice is a little more distinctive than I thought. His character, named Abbot, may not look a whole lot like Gleeson, but I still felt as if the voice fit in perfectly. Gleeson's demanding style of voice is a nice fit for the character, and I can now understand why Gleeson wanted to contribute. The supporting voice cast is decent, although most of us have never heard of the names which shall be spoken: Mick Lally and Liam Hourican. But that doesn't make them bad, does it? Perhaps someday, we will all know of their names. But for now, most of us would consider them anonymous.

"The Secret of Kells" may not be perfect, but it definitely caught my eye. The reason being is because of its consistently dazzling visuals, which are amongst some of the most unique I have seen in years. The intent was to mix Irish mythology with the visual style, and the result is a pretty damn good film. I'd recommend it for the visual style alone, since it might be the only reason to really see it. Without it, "The Secret of Kells" may have been useless. But with it, I can live with the flaws. This was a short, but consistently interesting work of fantasy. It never stops being interesting, especially in the forest scenes (where the film is at its best). My personal favorite scene was when Brendan comes across an eel-like demon inside a cave. I loved this scene because there was an unrealistic amount of effort put into it. The colors were amazingly abstract, and the film had a rather surrealistic feel to it. The music is also appropriately beautiful, making "The Secret of Kells" a mellow and thoroughly fun sort of animated film. It doesn't quite rank amongst the best, although with its calm style and beautiful visuals, it's easy to recommend. Also, it's not too dark for the kiddies, although the slightest hint of darkness indicates that you probably keep it away from anyone under ten. However, it's a family film at heart. It may be kind of dark, but it's never violent. It has a playful, but beautiful feel to it. However, if an adult chooses to look at it as art, then they will be the ones enjoying it the most. It truly is unique, a little bit daring, and unlike anything I've had the pleasure of seeing this year, last year, or this decade perhaps. The animation crowd should be pleased.

I enjoyed having to stop and admire "The Secret of Kells" at times. Seldom are there films made solely for admiration, and this is one of the rare ones. I can not call it perfect, although it is better than the much more financially successful 2009 Dreamworks offering "Monsters VS Aliens". However, it's not as good as "Up", Pixar's animated production, due to "Up's" incomparable emotional power. However, the hand-drawn spectacle in this film is nearly impeccable. I am excited to see what Tomm Moore decides to come up with next; as long as it is still animation. His hand-drawn work here is beautiful, and all the work certainly paid off. Some have mildly criticized the film for being a bit shallow in the plot and characters department, although I thought that those were but a few bumps in the otherwise luscious road. This film is a beauty to behold, on a visual level. There is absolute finesse involved, and there was effort put in. It was even nominated for an Oscar, Best Animated Feature. Perhaps that is how you have heard of it. Without such a potential honor, it may not be as popular as it is. And films like these do not deserve to go unnoticed; they deserve an audience even if it doesn't come built-in. So basically what I'm trying to say is that this is an interesting film, even for those currently unfamiliar with animated films. You don't need to be a part of the animated cult to appreciate lesser known efforts; you just need an open mind and an open heart. This is a film for you if you possess both. One of the better animated offering of 2009, although not one of the best films of the year overall. But, if you can't beat 'em, then at least dazzle 'em with the stunning visuals. At least "Kells" manages to do that and more. Thank goodness.


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December 15, 2010
I am all over this one! I heard of this but for some reason I dropped it from my radar. Thanks for the review!
December 15, 2010
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Quick Tip by . December 14, 2010
See this film for the visuals. I loved them. The story isn't that fascinating and the characters are seldom interesting, but this film looks incredible and pulls off an impressive production out of an Indie.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Genre: Family
Release Date: March 05, 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 1hr 15min
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