The Secret of Kells

Director - Tomm Moore, 2009

In 2007 there was a black & white production called Persepolis (I don’t know if you know it, but it was shown in my sister’s Media class…), and despite all the hoo-ha I frankly thought it was crap; an educational bombardment because of a messy narrative in which the only thing I actually learnt was that Iggy Pop has a cool voice.

As The Secret of Kells commenced I was filled with dread, as black & white political recollections squeezed into my open mind clogging up all hope for a successful cartoon, however thankfully it didn’t take long for this indirect worry to evaporate.

The book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript today recognised as one of Ireland’s greatest national treasures, and this Irish-French-Belgian film fictionalizes the formation process. The drawings are colourfully bright and gratifying in a style that could easily be the dignified offspring of  The Powerpuff Girls and Disney’s Hercules.

The care and precision with which each “picture” is designed and drawn culminates in every shot containing as much value as a painter’s artwork. The travelling scenes in particular are incredibly inventive, often showcasing three different places drawn as three separate canvases, with the characters moving left to right between each canvas across the screen. As their journey unfolds without the camera changing shots, I simply chuckle at the marvellous effect and originality. In a way, the style reminds me of the indie puzzle game Braid, which is mint too.

Brendan’s uncle Abbott sounds a lot like Bob Geldof, and the evil mythological baddie Crom Cruach, who is in fact a pre-Christian Irish deity, is animated to essentially depict a classy version of Nokia’s famous snake game. Furthermore, Sean Lennon is a voice actor! But I cannot for the life of me find his character.

At only one hour and a quarter long, The Secret of Kells is a beautifully concise piece of animation and storytelling, although some viewers may become distracted by the intensely artsy style.

-James Godwin, January 26th, 2011

Copyright © 2011. James Godwin. All rights reserved.