Screw Nemo and all of his fish friends, The Secret of Kells is an animated film worthy of high praise by both children and adults. Kells is much more than just a cartoon romp: it's a piece of Irish culture exploiting every benefit from film it can. Moreover, the fact you are even hearing of this film that should have just faded away behind all the Hollywood blockbusters proves how good it is.
Kells has two storylines: the boy and then the city. The main character is the young and naive orphan Brendan who lives with his restrictive uncle, Abbot Cellach. Brendan suffers from ennui and an insatiable curiosity about the outside world. However, Brendan, as all citizens of his secluded village are, is forbidden to leave because of the danger of a Barbarian invasion.
Exacerbating Brendan's isolation is uncle Cellach's obsession in building a great wall to, hopefully, stop the invaders. But everything changes when a famous "master illuminator" arrives as a refugee from foreign lands carrying "an ancient, unfinished book." Brendan is fascinated by the mysterious old man and his book.
The book is a continuous project of drawn stories stretching from past lore, present events and even the future. Predictably, Brendan must help finish the magical book by leaving the city on a dangerous quest requiring him to overcome his fears. This is where the story really develops and the magical world of an enchanted forest containing mythical creatures really grabs you. Eventually, Brendan meets the life-changing fairy Aisling, a mysterious girl who can transform into a wolf.
To elaborate more on the story more would spoil the many surprises awaiting, so suffice it to say that you'll be entertained throughout. Unfortunately, with a run-time of only 75 minutes, the full potential of the story is not realized and sometimes feels frantic. Perhaps a bigger budget could have afforded more screen time to develop certain characters more and even have better action scenes.
There's a lot to like about Kells. The animation is beautiful to look at and you never know what amazing sight you'll see next. The colors are vibrant and always pitch perfect for the ambiance. Kells is pretty much the equivalent of visiting an Irish art museum. Check out the Prezi presentation below for a taste of some of the great artwork and a couple of clips!
The voice work is good across the board, but Brendan Gleeson's work on uncle Cellach is especially effective in creating a memorable personality of a flawed, but well-intentioned, man. Almost a character in of itself, Bruno Coulais' musical score mixing traditional Irish folk music with an ethereal twist is a major highlight. One of my favorite aspects of Kells is how it avoids the cheesy moral lessons many animated films suffer from. It still has teachable lessons like learning how to overcome one's fear and accomplish something for the community. Unsurprisingly, I really don't remember what Nemo taught.
4/5: A good intellectual re-up before summer idiocy.
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