In a remote Irish village under siege by Vikings, young Brendan is being schooled in the art of illumination by an old monk, while his uncle, the abbot in charge of protecting all the people grows increasingly impatient with his tomfoolery.
But there’s more afoot in The Secret of the Kells than meets the eye. The illumination of the book has some sort of mystical power, and when Brendan sets off to the forest to collect berries for ink, he encounters a wolf-spirit-girl, Aisling.
The two develop a relationship, even as the crisis in the town grows worse. (Actually, the rhythm and setting of the movie is remarkably similar to How To Train Your Dragon.)
If you’ve heard of this movie at all, it’s probably as the “Say what?” entry in the Oscars. You had Pixar’s Up, Henry Selick’s Coraline, Disney’s Princess and the Frog, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and…this one!
This is pretty typical Oscar stuff, of course. Monsters vs. Aliens was the #11 movie last year, grossing about $200M, but no, let’s nominate the little foreign film. (Just as a reference, Fox made about $20M, Coraline $75M, Princess $100M, and Up nearly $300M. Kells may not have made back it’s $6.5M budget.)
The other thing you might have heard about this movie is how good it looks. Let me agree that, yes, it looks good: It also looks a whole like an episode of “Samurai Jack”. It uses many of the same techniques pioneered by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of that series, and former collaborator Craig McCracken (of the “Powerpuff Girls”).
The whole thing is in the flat UPA style—remember Mr. Magoo—that McCracken and Tartakovsky proved could actually be artistic and not just money saving, with the aforementioned shows (and others like “Dexter’s Laboratory”).
Further, Tartakovky’s trick of changing the screen shape based on the action is employed here. The image goes from 4:3 to 16:9 and even to a screen split into three parts to show different parts of the action at once.
And the Vikings (called “barbarians” here, but they have the pointy helmets) look just like villainous robots from “Samurai Jack”.
None of this to say it’s bad, but one gets the sense that a lot of the oohs and ahs from the critics may come from their lack of experience with the Cartoon Network.
It’s short. We were all kind of startled when it was over.
Of the five of us, The Old Man didn’t care for it, because he hates the style of the animation (it reminds him of the crappy cartoons of the ‘60s), and The Barbarienne had no clue what was going on.
The Boy and The Flower both liked it, as did I. But I sort of think I’m going to end up liking Monsters vs. Aliens more over time.
Oh, and if you’re interested in what The Kells are, Wikipedia is your friend.