Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Art About Art: Moore/Twomey's surprise Academy pick THE SECRET OF KELLS opens

Standing tall next to Disney, Pixar, Focus and Fox is now with a film that is surely the surprise nomination of the year: THE SECRET OF KELLS, an animated narra-
tive movie from director/story guy Tomm Moore (shown below), co-director Nora Twomey and screenwriter Fabrice Ziolkowsky. Done in what TrustMovies calls old-fashioned flat, colorful, highly stylized animated line drawing (supplemented, according to the director's statement, by some computer anima-
tion), the film probably cost what Pixar pays for its press materials.  And yet so rich in story, ideas, and beauty is this little 75-minute film that it certainly gives the other nominees a run for their money. So far as simplicity is concerned, it wipes the floor with them.

The Secret of Kells combines Celtic mythology, an illuminated manuscript, history and magic into a kid's adventure tale that is short on dialog and explanation but long on lovely visuals.  I found this enchanting and often gripping but I do wonder what young kids will make of it.  Will they "get" it?  Probably not completely, but they should understand enough to carry them along and then use their own imagination to complete the parts of the tale they may not fully comprehend.

The movie takes place in a multi-cultural, multi-colored monastery in which the abbot is having constructed a huge wall to protect his flock and the locals from marauding Vikings.  His nephew (and our hero) little Brendan becomes involved with a master "illuminator," who, with his cat, has come to take shelter in the Abbey.  As Brendan learns about illumination and drawing, he also visits the forbidden forest outside the abbey where he meets a strange and magical little girl and her wolf pack.  Complications ensue.

The animation -- all of it wonderful -- ranges from frightening and awesome (lots of red and black and jagged edges) during the siege, to bright and earthy-colors when the environment is front and center (below), to the highly geometrical (further below) when magic -- and art -- are needed.  All the while, color choices are vital, as is the abstract style necessary to give the proper tone to the various scenes and their differing moods.

The movie finally offers a very smart mix of adventure, scares (which most young kids love), fantasy and magic (also high on their list) -- and art.  In fact the movie succeeds in being art about art: acquainting its viewers with the beauty of illuminated manuscripts in a manner that I suspect may stick with them for life.  On one level the "secret" of kells has to do with myth and magic.  On another, that secret is simply the importance of art to our individual lives and to the life of the world.

The Secret of Kells open Friday in New York City at the IFC Center and will open in Boston and Philadelphia on March 19th. A nationwide roll-out will follow, beginning April 2.

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