Mini-Review: The Secret of Kells (2009)

Starring Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Liam Hourican, Paul Tylak, Michael McGrath, Paul Young

Directed by Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey

Expectations: Low. It doesn’t look like something I’d care about.

I think this one is more of a case of “not for me” than actual poor quality. I’m unable to tell definitively, but for my money The Secret of Kells was long, boring and somewhat harsh on the eyes. Strong words for a film that garnered high praise from nearly all critics, and earned a coveted Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Let’s start with the long, boring part. The Secret of Kells is only just over an hour in length, but it feels like three. I was unable to engage with the story right from the get-go so that’s probably why the damn thing felt so long. I tried though, Lord did I try, but at nearly every turn I was bored. There are some genuinely great moments sprinkled here and there, but by the time they arrived I was already so checked out they failed to truly resonate.

And now for the visuals. I get what they were going for: taking influence from the art of the time the story depicts (the 7th century) and running wild with it. This is a fantastic idea and has worked well for films previous, but the thing is that The Secret of Kells actually looks more like something from the workshop of Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory. I’ve only watched Samurai Jack in any real sense, and I absolutely love that show. What’s interesting about that is that I love it in spite of its art style and character design. I’m not especially fond of the art overall, but the great characters and the level of filmmaking skill and inventiveness exhibited in Samurai Jack is amazing, impressive and thoroughly entertaining. When The Secret of Kells looks pretty much exactly like that, but features little to none of these positives, I can’t help but be bored.

Film is a visual medium and visual aesthetics are one of my most important criteria for liking a film. I didn’t care for the visuals, so it was really hard to get through this one. The film did completely enthrall my cat though, so that’s something. I don’t think it’s so much that The Secret of Kells is a bad movie, but that I just couldn’t connect with it. It is impressive that a small, independent studio can crank out an animated film of this technical quality though. Watch the trailer and if the visuals don’t bother you, you just might get a good time out of this one. All others, look elsewhere.

4 comments to Mini-Review: The Secret of Kells (2009)

  • This may have been “Not for you,” but it seems to have fit me just fine. I’ve ben dithering over whether to watch this one or not for a while now. Even before you put up this review, and I finally got around to doing it. If I’m a sucker for something, it’s strange imagery. Anything that blurs the line between reality and illusion can grab my attention. It’s why, despite some glaring flaws, I still managed to enjoy X. For this film, I was riveted the moment the girl turned the cat to mist. I just loved its strange events.

    I do take issue with the animation. I’m never sure what to feel when 2D animation is manipulated so heavily by computer. It’s almost the same as the CGI that irritates me so much elsewhere, and it did grate at times. Overall I thought they did a fairly good job with it though. I understand and agree with a lot of your points, but it had a sense of wonder and mystery that is rare, and I felt that made up for its shortcomings.

    • Well I’m glad you enjoyed it. It does have its share of strange imagery and wonder, but man I could barely make it through the movie. I was so bored.

      As for the CG manipulation, I would guess that’s more a product of the budget here than anything else. This was made completely independently so I’m sure they were cutting corners as they saw fit. That’s part of my problem with it too; the animation is so clean and perfect and computer. I’m still waiting for the CG backlash and the new rise of completely hand-drawn films, but I’m starting to lose hope. Like you said though, they did a good job with it for the most part.

  • Man, I am hoping for that backlash like nothing else, and the sooner the better. We’re on the same page there. At least we still have Studio Ghibli to hold us over.

    (Jeez, I just realized how many typos I put in that first post. Now I feel like a retard with all that on my permanent record.)

    • Yes, at least Studio Ghibli is showing everyone else how it’s done. They just need to start listening!

      Don’t worry about the typos. I can edit them out if you really want me to, but I don’t think anything there is of the record-tarnishing variety.

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