Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Running Time: 75 mins
The Secret Of Kells is an Irish film about a young boy, shut inside a fortified monastery in medieval times, who briefly escapes the clutches of his stern uncle, and travels into the nearby forest to collect ink for a master illuminator, where he learns of dark forces that threaten both the forest and his own home.
This really is a film of two halves. It’s a pleasant and mystical fantasy adventure for the first part, which, whilst looking impressive, doesn’t really do much else to make an enthralling watch, but it turns dramatically in the second and final acts into a dramatic and emotionally riveting conclusion, filled to the brim with beautiful animation that I so wish the entirety of the film was full of.
The animation, although bringing so much more to the table later on in the film, is the one thing that is consistently impressive in The Secret Of Kells. The 2D storybook visuals give the film a wonderfully mystical quality, and even when the story isn’t really shining brightest, they’re incremental to making sure the film is as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
Directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey need a lot of credit for why this film ultimately works. From the start, it’s not the most original or engrossing story, but Moore and Twomey are brilliant at keeping your interest through patient pacing and therapeutic world-building. The animation is simple enough to go well with a delightfully relaxing score, and the directors weave the two together perfectly throughout.
For me, however, the reason that the film just doesn’t work so well over all of its 75 minutes is because of its first act. On the whole, there’s very little that the story offers apart from a fairly generic tale of a young boy having to fight to prove something is real against cynical adults. It’s enjoyable without a doubt, but not an engrossing nor emotionally interesting story, and one which definitely pales in comparison to the film’s finale.
Frankly, there’s one moment where the film takes a sharp turn from being therapeutic and pleasant to extremely dark and dramatic. It’s still watchable for kids, but the emotional drama that emanates from the upheaval of the final act is stunning. With a far more impressive score, and some truly astonishing animation sequences, the final half of The Secret Of Kells is both beautiful and haunting, proving exactly what the first half should have been all along.
Overall, I did enjoy The Secret Of Kells, but it’s not without its problems. With a fairly decent first act, it’s a film that takes until over half its runtime to really show its stuff, but the incredible visual beauty and emotional depth that arrives once you get there is definitely worth the wait, and that’s why it gets a 7.5 from me.