Saturday, March 6, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells
Directed by Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey
Released March 5, 2010

This year’s surprise nominee for Best Animated Feature is finally here, and it’s quite an interesting experience. It’s one of the most astonishing uses of traditional two-dimensional animation to tell a story about the writing of the Book of Kells amid an impending invasion of Kells by the murderous Vikings. There’s something inherently fascinating and intoxicating about the film, but there seems to be something missing in the impact and overall effectiveness of the film in seeming like a finished project and a complete story.

In a sense, “The Secret of Kells” is like a film adaptation of a children’s book. While it tells a dark history often wrought with gruesome violence (though it isn’t rated by the MPAA, it would likely earn a PG-13), the way it presents it is through the eyes of the impressionable young Brendan, the nephew of the Abbot who has never left the confines of the abbey. Brendan’s curiosity always gets the best of him, and the arrival of the legendary Brother Aidan of Iona, illustrator of the Book of Kells, propels him into a whirlwind adventure that pits him both against the wrath of his overprotective uncle and much more gravely dangerous forces in his path.

Brendan’s real journey begins when he runs deep into a mysterious forest which he has been forbidden to enter by his uncle. The way he so quickly becomes simultaneously lost and awed by his fantastical surroundings is reminiscent of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where magic often aids the main character and things are never quite as they seem. The energy with which the excitable young protagonist runs headfirst into danger and the dominance of fascination over fear by what he finds is also similar in a wonderful way. The presence of Brendan’s fairy friend Aisling is probably the most amazing part of the film, and a haunting song that she sings to help spirit Brendan to safety is simply mesmerizing.

The two-dimensional animation is particularly impressive considering the current predominance of computer animation today. The active workings of Brendan’s imagination are spectacularly illustrated and represented by the startling and incredible designs that play out on screen. Aesthetically and technically speaking, it’s a marvelous achievement that serves as a strong argument for the continued use of hand-drawn animation, and its resemblance to a children’s story book only helps make it all the more compelling. As a narrative film, however, it falls somewhat short because its 75-minute runtime doesn’t allow it the time to fully develop, and more crucially, finish telling, its intriguing tale.


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