DVD Review: ‘The Secret of Kells’ Features Striking Visuals

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CHICAGO – The most-surprising nominee on Oscar nomination morning 2010 had to be that a little film that almost no one in the audience had heard of much less seen would compete with the big-budget players for Best Animated Feature. Like an off-off-off-Broadway play getting nominated alongside multi-million dollar projects, there was something called “The Secret of Kells” sitting alongside “Coraline,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Up.” Now the little-movie-that-could is out on DVD and Blu-ray for you to try and figure out why.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 3.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 3.5/5.0

Of course, the big question is did it deserve it? I’m all for embracing outsiders and allowing the little guy to play with the big ones, so I’m fine with the nomination. And the film features some striking visuals. Having said that, it’s not nearly the experience of “Mary and Max” or “Ponyo,” two of the best animated films of the last several years and two works that I would have been happier to see take the “unpredictable” slot of the five nominees. “The Secret of Kells” is a good film but last year was one of the best in the history of animation and it’s somewhat surprising that this work rose to the top of a very-notable group of potential nominees.

The Secret of Kells was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th, 2010
The Secret of Kells was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th, 2010
Photo credit: New Video

What does work about “The Secret of Kells”? I believe the reason it was nominated was that it does absolutely get right so many of the aesthetic elements that CGI American animation has lost in the pursuit of technical excellence. It almost feels like the anti-“Monster vs. Aliens” in that it’s defiantly two-dimensional, old-fashioned, and lyrical instead of bombastic. The bright, vibrant color choices by directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey can sometimes be mesmerizing and there’s a fluidity to the design and line detail that approaches beauty. A gorgeous score by Bruno Coulais helps a film that can be compared more to poetry than prose. Forget prose, most modern U.S. animated films feel more like video games. “The Secret of Kells” never feels like a video game.

The Secret of Kells was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th, 2010
The Secret of Kells was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th, 2010
Photo credit: New Video

But like a lovely piece of classical music, “The Secret of Kells” can sometimes be a little too slight for its own good. I longed for the story to hook me and grab me in the same way as the visuals. While the worst animation of the last few years has placed more emphasis on visuals than storytelling, it almost feels like the same trap was present here. “The Secret of Kells” looks great but the story never meant as much as to me as I was expecting with the build-up of the Academy Award nomination.

Ultimately, “The Secret of Kells” is absolutely worth a look, just don’t get your expectations as high as I did after that shocking nomination. With my adoration for “Mary and Max” and “Ponyo” well-noted, I went into “The Secret of Kells” expecting to be equally blown away by the movie that beat them out. That I wasn’t could be more my fault than the film’s and I will go back to this lyrical work again, even if it is just to admire the visuals.


“In a remote medieval outpost of Ireland , young Brendan embarks on a new life of adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from foreign lands carrying a book brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide. It is here that he meets the fairy Aisling, a mysterious young wolf-girl, who helps him along the way. But with the barbarians closing in, will Brendan’s determination and artistic vision illuminate the darkness against evil?”

Special Features:
o Notes From the Master Illuminators: Audio Commentary with the Director, Co-Director, and Art Director
o Voices of Ireland: Voice Recording Sessions with Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney and Mick Lally
o Director’s Presentation of Pre-Production Sketches and Inspirational Images
o Pencil to Picture
o Early Concept Trailer
o Aisling at the Oscars
o Theatrical Trailer

“The Secret of Kells” was directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 5th, 2010. It is not rated and runs 75 minutes.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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