Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the secret of kells

i quickly became interested in this movie after seeing an ad for it, noticing that it had a large number of award nominations, a non-standard animation style (2D, too!), and especially the fact that it was an animated feature film not created by Disney or Dreamworks. That was what really did it for me. No offense to those companies. They've turned in some fine works. Having said that, though, I have a very, verrry low tolerance for exposure to things. What I mean by that is that if you give me the same movie, TV show, song or anything for long enough, I get tired of it. Everyone is like this, but my threshold for things like that is usually lower than what is normal. Over the years, animated films have become pretty standardized, to a saddening degree. Most animated films are CGI, and follow very similar structures and sensibilities towards things like humor, characters, comedic timing, and I could go on. Disney and Dreamworks have kind of created this problem with the simple fact that they are really the only production houses making animated films. They're made by mostly the same people, so naturally Despicable Me, Shrek, Madagascar, Megamind, How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story are going to look very similar despite having their own personal strengths. Toy Story 3 was good, and I hear really good things about How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind, but you can't really deny that their art styles and general aesthetic design make them appear to have been "cut from the same cloth".

I don't know what this is from
So when something refreshing comes along, I'll usually look into it. The sheer fact that it was 2D really would have been enough. I've been meaning to see The Princess and the Frog for the sheer fact that it's 2D in a freaking sea of 3D. I did a bit of research and learned that SoK has been generally well-received. Amazon's ratings system gave it 4.5/5 stars, with almost all of the ratings coming in at 4 or 5. So it's not like a good number of people gave it 0 and most gave it 5; everyone gave it 4 or more. So I considered it a safe rent. When it starts, you're treated to some nice Hercules-style (in terms of animation) backstory on a burned village and an old man who escaped with an important book. We are informed that our setting is medieval Irelend on the brink of a Viking invasion. Our story is about a young boy named Brendan. Or Brandon. Everyone in the movie has an Irish accent so I couldn't tell. He lives in a village run by his uncle who is overseeing construction a giant wall surrounding it in order to keep out vikings. The story takes a few turns and such, but nothing major really happens. Long story short, the old man with the book comes to the boy's village, and he helps him finish it. It' the Book of Kells (or rather is later named that), a copy of the four gospels of the New Testament, and a very important record of civilization. To get it done, he ventures into the forest, meeting a friend, going on a fetch quest and defeating a dungeon monster. And ... that's all that really happens. He finishes the book and the movie kind of ends. It comes in at 1 hour 15 minutes, which is kind of an awkward time as it's not really full feature length. I watched this movie with Matt, his wife Leeanne and 10 minutes of my sister before she walked out. We discussed it and this movie kind of feels like a "long animated short", but more on that in a minute.

The animation is solid. You can tell it's had a ton of work put in, even if at this point all animation is heavily done with computers. The design for just about everything is done with a heavy emphasis on simplicity. Circles and sharp angles compose just about every character, with curly-Q scribbles used heavily on backgrounds. Everything is kind of done with an "animation school" mentality, and when I say that I don't mean "amateur". It's hard to explain what I mean by that, but I would say that in every scene, there is always something to look at besides the principal actors. When something is going on on screen, you can always just decide to look left or right and gaze at something pretty. Forms and shapes are usually designed conveniently as to be aesthetically pleasant. For example, there's one building with a short semicircular platform that sits against a wall. There's also an archway on the wall behind it. When the camera changes to a specific angle, the semicircular platform and the arch form a whole circle. Characters' movements are fluid, interesting and emotive. Again, something hard to explain. Here:

It's lovely animation. It's kind of like a lot of the stuff you can see on kids' channels (Kim Possible and Total Drama Island come to mind), but it still kind of does it's own thing. I heard that the people responsible for Samurai Jack, an acclaimed show I never watched, worked on this, so it's probably like that. Storywise, it's nothing bad, but nothing special. Like mentioned, it's about 1:15:00, which is really an awkward run, and it feels like it takes a good 2:00:00. In the beginning, nothing really exciting happens and there's a lot of low-key acting, even from Brendan or the townsfolk. It really picks up when Brendan meet's Asling (video), and there's one or two adventures he goes on that highlight the movie nicely, but for the most part it's really really subdued. I imagine that my perception is probably a result of the fact that I'm American. My understanding is that this is an Irish movie, and if Asian movies are any indication of how the rest of the world makes movies relative to America, ours have waaaaaay more action. So there's that. It's not bad, but even to a person who prefers movies to not be so explodey, this movie can kind of drag.

Overall, though, it's a great movie. At the end we concluded that it was really boring, but good. If you are interested in seeing an animated movie done in a non-Disney or non-Dreamworks style, you know, just to get something fresh, this is worth renting. 

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