The Secret of Kells (2009)

I don't know if I've ever said this, but Animation is always one of my favorite categories when it comes to the Oscars. This year, the only one I haven't seen thus far is The Princess and the Frog, and because Disney already submitted Up, I don't really feel the need. I've stated openly that Coraline would be my top choice, but upon viewing this film a couple days ago, I'm not so sure. I hadn't even heard of it before the nominations came out and so I had no idea what to expect. What I found blew me away. 

There's no question that the animation in this movie is spectacular. It was a collaboration between Belgian, French and Irish filmmakers/animators, and it was very clear that a lot of the film was hand painted and sketched out with intricate detail. I loved watching the background stay still while the characters moved, because even if it wasn't as true to life as a lot of computer animation, you could tell the animators had created actual art that the characters (who contrasted this detail with their sharp edges and stylized shapes) were moving through. The animation had an old-time, rustic feel that echoed the subject of illuminated manuscripts that much of the film centered around, and it was so easy to be completely sucked in to the gorgeous world that Brendan spends his time exploring. 

What surprised me about this film was its extremely dark subject matter. I found the Vikings to be legitimately terrifying, and had I been a child watching, I probably would have had nightmares. These are not your typical Disney villains- there are no comical pratfalls or obvious weaknesses, only looming, ominous killers dressed in black that bring destruction everywhere they go. The other demons Brendan must face- the wolves, the giant snake- all have some aspect to them that takes the edge off; Ashley protects him from forest villains and the things he faces in the Dark Place are all drawn in outlines, as if you're watching Harold and the Purple Crayon on the screen. Somehow, you know during these points that he'll be OK, but the Vikings? Anything can happen, which is a terrifying formula for an animated children's movie to adopt. 

What I loved about this movie was that it simply existed for what it was. What I mean by that is that it didn't try to sell itself to any particular demographic. There were no obvious slapstick jokes for young children, or modern references for adults to understand. The only thing you were focused on was the story of Brendan and the Abbey, and that was way more important than trying to feel like the movie was made for you. It's timeless, putting all its effort and attention into the moment that it is trying to convey, and there's no concern for making sure you enjoy yourself, a quality that movies like Up and The Fantastic Mr. Fox lack. In that way, I enjoyed myself immensely because the film was so easy to watch- I wasn't constantly trying to understand every reference for my age group, and I didn't feel the need to like it because the filmmakers wanted me to. There was a respect for the intelligence of the audience that you rarely find in animated films. 

I've written about how I would have liked Up had the animators just grew a pair and decided that it was OK for Pixar to make a film marketed at an older age group. Instead, they threw in some gimmicks to make children laugh in what would have otherwise been a beautiful, nostalgic film about love and loss. It therefore makes me really sad to watch movies like The Secret of Kells because they're always under-marketed, under-appreciated, and under-acknowledged, and I know this will be the case at this year's Oscars. Up will win Best Animated Feature, but honestly, if it were up to me, The Secret of Kells would be my pick because of the quality of the animation and the lack of commercial bullshit. Either way, I hope the animators understand that, award or not, they've created a beautiful collaboration that culminated in a film that can only be described as breathtaking. 


The Movie Mistress


  1. "Up" was so stupid, I totally agree, it would have been a lovely movie if the animators had grown a pair. I haven't seen "the secret of kells" but it look so much better than "up"

  2. I was kinda meh about this movie (which is odd for an Irish person). It was effective in parts (the design is beautiful), but I was less than impressed by the portrayal of the African member of the troupe.

  3. Yeah, I agree- my one criticism was the stereotyping of the other monks- the african one and the italian one really. but i thought in the long run it was minor in comparison to the racism that's apparent in, oh, almost every Disney movie.