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Animation and Anime

An Early Look At Distinctive Animated Film The Secret of Kells - US Premiere This Weekend

Hi, AICN Anime's Scott Green here a head-up's an intriguing animated film. This weekend NYICFF will be presenting the US Premiere of Tomm Moore's The Secret of Kells. Screenings of this film from the producers of Kirikou and the Sorceress and Triplets of Belleville will held at New York's IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third, Sat & Sun, July 18 & 19, 11:00am. The 95 minute film will be shown and English and is recommended ages 6 to adult. Tickets available here.
Ain't It Cool News is fortunate to able to present a guest review by Jeremy W. Kaufmann, of the sharp and irreverent online audio show Destroy All Podcasts DX, and electro punk band Violence Mars. So, without further ado, Jeremy W. Kaufmann's early look at The Secret of Kells...

It is all too easy to glance at The Secret of Kells and dismiss it as a combination of typical Walt Disney and Cartoon Network, but that is doing the film a grave disservice. The animation, in broad terms, is similar to the style popularized by Genndy Tartakovsky in projects like Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack. It has the same flat look that harkens back to the Jay Ward cartoons of old, and like Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars series, The Secret of Kells has a lot of digital animation. The big difference is that this film is even more stylized and incredibly ornate. It also frequently slips into abstraction so the film can dwell on pure design and it seems like everything is covered with Celtic knots and graceful little swirls. The amount of detail packed into every background is stunning and contrasts sharply with the spartan character design. The plot may appear a bit familiar at first. How many Disney cartoons star an orphan child with a stern adoptive parent, an animal sidekick and a magical friend? But only on the surface is this movie traditional. Brendan is a boy on the cusp of puberty living at the Abbey of Kells in medieval Ireland. The Abbot of Kells, Brendan's gruff uncle, raises the boy, with some help from a goofy retinue of monks. But this is where things swing towards the unusual. Marauding vikings have been tearing through the British Isles and everyone knows they are on their way. The Abbot's plan is to build big stone walls around Kells to protect the monks, the villagers and especially Brendan, who he has forbidden to leave the grounds. The constant threat of viking invasion lends the film an air of paranoia complete with apocalyptic visions that is very compelling and totally unexpected in a movie for kids. Brendan's day to day life of growing up and helping out in the Abbey is interrupted when the friendly, inspiring Brother Aidan arrives carrying The Book, an extravagantly engraved masterpiece of religious art. Aidan encourages the enthusiastic but shy Brendan to come out of his shell, embrace his creativity, and defy his bossy, joyless uncle. This journey from excitable child to master artist is just fine to hang the film on, but it is a little thin. Brendan's friend Aisling, the magical forest spirit, is fun and Brother Aidan is definitely charismatic and entertaining, but the main plot is still spare. Some of the subtext is pretty clever. Aisling represents the joy and innocence of youth, and once Brendan grows up he can't really see her any longer. It is odd that while they bring up the fact that Aisling and her serpentine foe represent Celtic mythology, this somehow doesn't really affect Brendan's Christianity. Kudos to the movie for including both Christianity and the Celtic myths, but it's weird to see them coexist without the film commenting on it. Then again, the movie clearly shows us that Aisling's magic is real and at no point does the Christian god intervene, so perhaps it is making a stance after all. I also find it interesting that disobeying his uncle is proven to be the correct course of action. While there's a definite "follow your heart" message here, I wonder about the "ignore your parents" message. Then again, Brendan is twelve years old, so maybe they were going for youthful rebellion. I noticed that the film curiously has two MacGuffins: the unfinished Book of Kells and the crystal Brendan needs to steal from the snaky villain before he can complete said book. Brendan's battle for the crystal is strangely abstract and the subtext of defeating your fears through creativity and confidence is great. This is not a Disney style "kill that bad guy and rescue the girl" movie. That said, the movie feels strangely anticlimactic because that fight is not the end and the Brendan just runs from the vikings. The plot and its structure may not bowl me over, but I like the message and the undertones. The score by French composer Bruno Coulais is atmospheric and suitably Irish-sounding, and the voice work is good too. They smartly cast actors who are actually children to play children and as a bonus, Evan McGuire (Brendan) and Christen Mooney (Aisling) are decent actors. But really, the story, the music, and the acting are all secondary to the absolutely brilliant animation. That is why you want to see this film. Whether it's an abstract, Tron-like battle with an evil snake or an attack by Aisling's monster wolves, the movie always finds very creative ways to show it. Director Tomm Moore has created the kind of movie where you want to keep stopping it to admire the many elaborate layers that nearly every frame is loaded with. Fabrice Ziolkowski's screenplay may not bowl you over, but this movie is an absolute triumph of design. This is the kind of film where a montage plays out in a triptych! The Secret of Kells never talks down to kids, and while I'm not sure children will appreciate the incredible art, the story is accessible and fun, if scary at points. Children will certainly enjoy the film, but the rich visuals are an adult's reward.
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