Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

This has to be written now - not only will the next few days involve being hip deep in BUFF stuff so that there isn't any time to write about The Secret of Kells, but I strongly suspect that it will be tough to get into the right frame of mind for it, as well.

Still, I'm glad to see it open up for a couple weeks. It's a delightful little film, and I think that in an ideal world, this is what the Oscars and similar awards are for - calling attention to good to great films so that they have an opportunity to sell more tickets. Something like Kells kind of falls into the boutique-house/mainstream trap, in that the folks who go to boutique houses don't seek out family-friendly animated movies, and families probably skip past Landmark's listings in the paper. Heck, only two Chlotrudis people (including myself) came to this showing, which was the designated movie of the week. But it did attract some families with kids to Kendall Square, which is a bit of an unusual experience.

2009 was a ridiculously good year for animated films - there were enough to nominate five movies for the Oscars, and they were good enough that people didn't carp too hard over Ponyo, which is only the new Miyazaki, being snubbed (to tie in a little, I considered comparing Kells to Kiki's Delivery Service, in how growing up led to the main character no longer being able to converse with someone). Folk I trust say that there was a good case for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, too.

Hopefully 2010 is nearly as good. I hear it's off to a good start with How to Train Your Dragon, although it'll be a week or so before I see that (I want gigantic IMAX, not digital, so I'll wait until after BUFF is over). In the meantime, see Kells during its likely brief release.

The Secret of Kells

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

Like many fans of animation, I have a certain ambivalence toward the "Best Animated Feature" category at the Academy Awards. I like the idea of a sorely underappreciated medium getting some recognition, though I also worry that it will mark them as second-tier, and some of the selections made have caused me to question the nominators. Still, nominating this somewhat under-the-radar film from Ireland probably got it a much larger release than it would have had otherwise, so in doing so, they've done something right and done something good.

In 9th Century Ireland, the village of Kells builds walls to protect itself from the Norsemen who sweep over the island like a merciless wave. The abbot's nephew, Brendan (voice of Evan McGuire), is less interested in defense than in helping the other monks, charged with transcribing knowledge. The finest scribe, they say, is Brother Aidan (voice of Mick Lally), who coincidentally arrives at Kells with warning that the Vikings will not be far behind. Still, he remains set on completing his book, and sees Brendan as a potentially exceptional apprentice. When Brendan ventures into the forest to find berries with which to make ink, he upsets his uncle Cellach (voice of Brendan Gleeson), but also meets Aisling (voice of Christen Mooney), a spirit who lives there.

An early shot tells us a great deal about both the film's inspirations and the visual style to come: We see the wall around the village as a perfect circle, as if viewed from directly above, but the central tower points to the top of the screen as if shot from the ground. This sort of inconsistent perspective is common in the illuminated manuscripts that the monks create, and while director Tomm Moore only uses the device sparingly, it gives the film both an extra bit of period detail and sense of the fantastic. It's a welcome break from the relative sameness of digitally animated movies, which are not necessarily always concerned about realism, but how things look in three dimensions.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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