Since its debut in 2009, I've been anxiously waiting to see the Irish-French-Belgian produced "The Secret of Kells." (Check out the trailer here.) Missing out on the very limited U.S. theatrical run this past March, I finally got the opportunity to watch the Blu-ray that was released Stateside this week.
Visually, this may be one of the most ambitious movies I've ever experienced. The animated artistry on display is nothing short of breathtaking; the film is constantly awash in lush, gorgeous hues, sweeping landscapes, and ornate objects of all shapes and sizes. It's not unlike gazing at a living kaleidoscope, but there's never doubting the movie's intended structure. Director Tomm Moore has clearly drawn upon a myriad of artistic influences: medieval Eastern European and German Expressionism are duly noted, as are the strong use of Celtic knots, and Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack style of geometric-made characters. Most intriguing, as Moore himself states, is Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes for the wintry sequences.
On the surface, some folks may balk at the geared-for-children presentation of the story. A closer examination, however, reveals so much more; the thematic symbolism of the characters and their motives are deceptively rich. At the center of the movie is the Book of Kells itself, which is fodder for terrific historical fiction. Ireland set in the ninth century places the illuminators square in the spotlight, the significance of their work in preserving and passing on their collective knowledge in the form of the medieval manuscripts a key component to the tale. A dash of Celtic mythology is thrown in with the inclusion of young Aisling, as well as the presence of the diabolical Crom Cruach. Some tragically dark twists in the story turn the generally idyllic atmosphere on its head.
Bruno Coulais provides an appropriately dreamy and mystical soundscape to the proceedings. Fiddles and flutes factor heavily in creating the Irish tone, and like his eclectic, mood-shifting work in Coraline, Kells can go from whimsical to eerie at the drop of the hat. Aisling Song is one of the big highlights of the score, as is the lovely ending theme The Book of Kells and the jaunty Kila-performed credits track Cardinal Knowledge.
I really enjoyed The Secret of Kells. Almost avant-garde in its presentation, it's a definite must-see for fans of animation, if just for the splendor of the visual spectacle alone.