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.