Monday, January 16, 2017

The Secret of Kells

Kells is a cartoon available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, considered by many a masterpiece of animation. The film is rated highly by audiences everywhere except Rotten Tomatoes where the critics rated it 91% but the viewers rated it only 85%. It does much better elsewhere.

I didn't want to watch it. Not my sort of thing.

But I did. At first I didn't care much for the sketchy form of drawing, simple lines, for example a cat's mouth is a circle with an x, human fingers are blockish and unrealistic, monk's hoods are squared off, color fields are blocked with no contour shading, their movement up stone stairs is simple drawings advancing step by step, no actual body movement at all.

The story is about a boy set up in a medieval monastery under the care of his uncle the abbot whose chief concern is building a wall to protect from imminent viking attack. An outsider monk visits whose chief concern is completing a book. The boy is not allowed outside of the monastery and the forest is forbidden. The visiting monk needs berries for green ink. This is the conflict of interests. The boy wants to help the visitor with the book.

Turns out the boy has artistic ability and the visiting monk is loosing his eyesight. The boy must overcome his fear of failure, his fear of the forest, and assist with the final drawings in the book.

The boy dares to go into the woods and runs into trouble immediately.

A girl appears who lives in the woods and saves him from disaster. The story follows loosely romance format, boy meets girl; girl hates boy; circumstances draw them together; boy and girl become fond of one another by overcoming obsticles. At first the girls says she will help if the boy promises never to come back into the forest. He agrees. Then the girl changes her mind and invites the boy back anytime he want to.

The vikings do attack. Their cartoon characters are barely drawn at all, just black blobs with thick swords held upright advancing en mass menacingly. Like chess pieces. That's all. There is not much detail to any of the characters so emotions and movements that are added like hair whipped by the wind are all conveyed with amusing economy. A lot of the animation looks like paper cut outs and a lot of the movement looks like transparencies and stop motion, but when the boy goes into the woods then the animation changes, detail is lavished, the drawings, their compositions their complexity and patterns, their colors and impressive details and the mood created all amount to a very real tour de force in animation. It is the forest scenes that arrest viewer's attention and evoke their high regard for this movie. It is altogether brilliant.

The story is solid besides. The monster in the story, the Crom Cruach, is an actual celtic mythological monster. In the end the grown up boy revisits the monastery and meets his downtrodden discouraged rueful elderly uncle clutching a remnant of the book that the boy helped complete, a single drawing by his nephew, saying, "This is all that I have left," and grown nephew hands him the finished book.

The forest scenes blew my mind. Right there are a million ideas for greeting cards. If I ever get stuck on ideas for a forest scene then I have only to turn to this film. The intertwining vines and tree limgs is very close in style to the intertwined celtic designs.








A lengthy sampling of frames of the forest scene follows. And after I snapped these with a Nikon from the television and resized and reframed them in Photoshop, I realized I could have more easily referred to Google images for [secret of the kells] nearly all the photos there are these same frames. Nevertheless, these are the frames, the designs, that impressed me.

















































The berries. They stink.























Back at the monastery.


This is how the rest of the characters are drawn.


14 comments:

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Thanks for the recommendation.

It's on Netflix streaming.

We'll watch it tonight.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Just now, my wife said to tell her if I want any spices. She said she's about to place an order. But not Penzey's, from which she's been buying spices for many years.

She said she's finally had it. She's sick and tired of the political bullshit. She said there's a spinoff business (maybe the Penzey guy's daughter or something) that sells pretty much the same stuff except without the politics. She's ordering from there. No more Penzey's.

The new place is called "The Spice House."

Sixty Grit said...

I had never heard of Penzey - thanks for the heads up - more Raleigh Nazis.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I forgot to mention: Wife said there's free shipping at The Spice House if you input the promo code "NOPOLITICS" or something along those lines.

ricpic said...

In a sense "modern" animation is about taking shortcuts. If you want to see what painstaking "realistic" animation is capable of you have to go back to Disney's productions - such as Cinderella and Snow White - before it too decided to go the shortcut route. I'm not coming down on either side of the argument, though, IMO, more is lost than gained when the attempt to copy natural effects is dropped in favor of the more mannered shortcut styles. Although I will say that the clean witty drawing of Rocky & Bullwinkle were refreshing after the heavier three dimensionality of the Disney classics.

ricpic said...

was not were

ricpic said...

Should have added Fantasia to the other "old style" Disney animations. Fantasia was probably the high point of that realistic or traditional form of animation. The impact of The Sorcerer's Apprentice section of Fantasia is unimaginable in the stripped bare modern style.

Mumpsimus said...

In the 1980s, I think, a friend and I drove several hours to Philadelphia to see the Book of Kells, when it was out on loan to tour the States. What a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Sixty Grit said...

Troop has a book of skells. He keeps it in his store.

ricpic said...

Troop has an Irish cop's mentality. But don't tell him I told you that.

Christy said...


I'm something of a minimalist. I can appreciate more detailed animation, but sometimes I like just the suggestion. Lets me fill in with my own imagination.

Known Unknown said...

"In the 1980s, I think, a friend and I drove several hours to Philadelphia to see the Book of Kells, when it was out on loan to tour the States. What a beautiful, beautiful thing."

I saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Amazing.

Mumpsimus said...

Lucky you, Known Unknown.

I think the Lindesfarne Gospels were part of that exhibit too. Or maybe I saw them somewhere else. I love that stuff.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Haven't watched it yet. Computer went full-on blank last night. Inconvenient.

Kind of makes me wish I'd bought that smart TV I was thinking about getting last week.

Doh!