The Oscar-nominated animated film The Secret of Kells comes to DVD next Tuesday, bringing with it a dazzling spectacle of unique animation and creativity. Oh, and some bonus features. The movie is imaginative and well-drawn, but not as captivating or engaging as expected.
The Secret of Kells follows young Brendan, who lives in a remote medieval outpost in Ireland. His uncle, Abbot Cellach, has become obsessed with building high walls around his abbey to protect it from Viking raiders and has forbidden Brendan from venturing outside. But when Aidan of Iona, a master illuminator, arrives and asks Brendan for help to complete his Book of Kells, Brendan ventures into the forest for the first time. There he meets a wolf-girl named Aisling, who introduces him to a beautiful but dangerous new world.
The story is interesting, but underwhelming given its Oscar nomination. Compared to some of the more recent Best Animated Picture underdogs - primarily foreign-made films such as Persepolis, Howl's Moving Castle or, most notably, The Triplets of Belleville - The Secret of Kells doesn't engage at the same level. Then again, it's hardly fair to compare this movie to more adult-oriented fare such as those just mentioned simply because it was made overseas, though this does lead to my next point: it isn't clear whether The Secret of Kells is made for children or adults. Its emphasis on creativity and imagination suggests the movie is made for children, but it's so abstract at times the overall production skews older. It's hard to say what the intended target audience is.
Despite its flaws, no one can argue that The Secret of Kells has one of the most unique visual styles ever put to film. The movie is gorgeous, even if you don't always know what you're looking at. It is at once intricately detailed and soft like watercolor, a perfect blend.
The movie is first and foremost a journey into the imagination. And in that regard, The Secret of Kells succeeds. Animation aside, it's just nothing remarkable.
The DVD comes with an audio commentary, voice recording sessions with the cast, making-of featurettes and more.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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