The Secret of Kells
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
It’s not often that a low-key animated film from Ireland gains some worldwide attention. The Secret of Kells changed all that when it grabbed the fifth spot in the list of films nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year. No doubt it stood no chance of winning against the powerhouse that was Pixar’s UP, but it was still gratifying to think that the Motion Picture Academy would take notice of such a work.
In this telling of the Celtic legend, young Brendan lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from the dreaded North Men… the Vikings. When Brother Aiden arrives carrying an ancient but unfinished book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers, he discovers that Brendan is who he needs to help complete the volume. To accomplish this task, Brendan must embark on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest full of mythical creatures.
The story is not all that complicated, but seems so in the telling. Some of it is hard to follow, and like many films of late from the British Isles, the actors’ brogue makes the viewer wish for the assistance of subtitles to decipher the dialog.
Those minor quibbles aside, The Secret of Kells is a glorious looking film, almost a throwback to the surrealist animation of the 1940s and 50s, particularly that of the U.P.A. Studios. That outfit was best known for creating the character Mr. Magoo, but also turned out some incredibly wonderful short films, including a seven-minute version of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, voiced by the great actor James Mason. U.P.A., like the Kells creators, had a fondness and talent for using geometrical shapes as the starting point for many of their drawings, which added much to the style and visual content.
Another strong point of The Secret of Kells is the wonderful use of rich, saturated colors that literally seem to pop off the screen. And if you recall last year’s Coraline, which made my “ten best” list of the year, one of my favorite parts of that film was the outstanding score by Bruno Coulais. That same composer also added a lovely, Celtic-based score for Kells, which accompanies the visuals perfectly.
What self-respecting animated film doesn’t have a charming animal character, and Kells is no exception. Brother Aiden comes with an endearing cat, lightly drawn, almost ethereal, that becomes Brendan’s ally in his quest. The cat is as necessary a character as the people.
The Secret of Kells is a visual and aural treat that is well worth the attention it’s been getting. Were it not for the Oscar nomination, you would likely not have the chance to see this in a commercial theatre. Avail yourselves of the opportunity.
The Secret of Kells is not rated, but would probably be a PG for some scary images. It opens Friday, April 30 at the Mariemont Theatre.