Last night I saw The Secret of Kells, starring the voices of Evan McGuire and Brendan Gleeson.
When this film was nominated for an Oscar last year, you could almost hear a collective "What?!" from the mouths of American moviegoers. The movie had not yet seen even a limited release in North America, and compared to its fellow nominees, displayed a very old-fashioned form of animation.
There were no fancy CGI shots; no 3D or IMAX options for viewing it—and for me, that's what made it all the more compelling.
Instead of focusing on moving pictures jumping out at me during action scenes, or pondering how something looked so life-like, I spent the film immersing myself in what felt like a 75-minute painting, featuring my favorite colors (blue and green).
The story is simple: little Brendan is an Irish orphan who lives at the Abbey of Kells with his paranoid uncle, who spends all of his time constructing walls to keep the danger out. Forbidden to leave the compound, Brendan, like any other child hero would, sneaks out to explore the surroundings, on a mission to get berries that produce ink for an "unfinished book" Brother Aidan (a wise elder) is working on.
On his journey he meets Ashley, a faerie-like guardian of the forest who he can't help but find enchanting. They encounter many varieties of peril as they travel together, and ultimately it's understood that Brendan will probably get caught.
The book Aidan is working on is undoubtedly the famous Book of Kells, which in reality has lived at Trinity College in Dublin for centuries. In the film, the significance of this breathtaking document isn't paid tribute to in the story, but more by way of the visuals (some were inspired by the actual book).
The hues that dominate the screen from start to finish come across like brilliant watercolors muted to soften the edges of the drawings, which, though imaginative, are somewhat basic.
The line drawings that make up the people, places and animals in the film are charmingly whimsical, with eyes that show their emotion and blink-or-you'll-miss-them details. The pages of each scene, if frozen, would be framable works of art.
As someone who has a special fondness for Ireland, and has seen the actual Book of Kells in person, I may have enjoyed this more than the average viewer. However, I would still recommend it for little ones not yet biased by recent animation technology, or adult fans of historical Ireland.