Thanks to Ruth Richards for this addition to The Forgotten series. You can read more of Ruth’s writing here [Ed].
Another year, another Oscar’s ceremony has come and gone. I can’t claim that I pay particularly close attention, but I was very excited to see the nominees for this years Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars. The range of animation styles on show, from the hand-drawn grace that is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the quirky stop-motion of The Boxtrolls and even Disney’s Big Hero 6 (the eventual winner) – make for an impressive group of films. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every one of the nominees I’ve seen, but it’s the one I haven’t seen that I’m most looking forward to…
Tom Moore and Paul Young’s Song of the Sea had only just seen a US release when the nominations were announced, and is yet to see a release in Australia. The story of Saoirse, the last of selkies (women of legend who can transform into seals) looks visually stunning, and has already been nominated for a number of accolades, including a César award. It was always going to be the underdog of the awards race, but it is heartening to see such a wide range of nominees from around the world in this particular category. The recognition of animation as an art from and as an integral aspect of cinema continues to grow.
It is Moore’s first feature film that I intend to talk about today, however. The Secret of Kells was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Award in 2009, the year that Pixar’s Up took home the honour. Moore, part of the Irish Animation studio Cartoon Saloon, brings a unique style and feel to the film – a beautiful, traditionally animated aesthetic, vibrant colours, memorable characters and a story that blends fantasy and history in a way that makes for a truly captivating experience.
Set in medieval Ireland, the film follows Brendan (Evan McGuire), a young monk living at the Abbey of Kells, under the care of his uncle, the Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). While his uncle is intent upon building a great wall to protect the residents of Kells from the invading Viking forces, Brendan is much more interested in the art of Illumination – illustrating and bringing to life the gospels of the Bible. His imagination is fired by the arrival of Brother Aiden (Mick Lally), a master illuminator who carries with him the Book of Iona – a book that is to “turn darkness into light….” Much to the Abbot’s dismay, Aiden enlists Brendan’s help to complete the book and in his quest to help Aiden, Brendan encounters creatures and has adventures he never previously dreamed of, encountering demons, dark forces, and a strange, fairy-like girl named Aisling.
The Book at the centre of the film is based on a real artefact – ‘The Book of Kells’ rests in Dublin at the Trinity College Library, and here Moore gives the story of it’s creation a fantastical twists. The art of the film is very much in line with medieval drawings and tapestries, and clearly inspired by the great illuminators of old. It is one of the more gorgeous films you can ever see. Rich greens, blues and reds colour the world of the film, distinguishing between the magical world of the forest beyond the Abbey’s walls and the ‘real’ world within the Abbey, and the destructive force of the Vikings.
What truly makes the film special is the strength of its story and characters. Seeing things from Brendan’s point of view, everything from the forest to the illustrations of the book is endowed with a sense of wonder. A highly curious character with a vivid imagination, we are continuously pondering the question, ‘Is what Brendan seeing real, or the dreams of a young boy?’ Is the magic really happening, or part of a story that a young boy weaves in his own mind? Everything is integrated into the film so well, that it hardly matters if we never really get an answer. The Abbot, wonderfully voiced by Gleeson, brings a wonderful sense of depth and gravity to the film. His is a wonderfully complex and deeply sympathetic character, with more to him than there at first appears.
This is a film of nuance. At times dark, and even scary, while at others filled with a sense of lightness and joy, every watch reveals something new, and brings new depth to the story.
By Ruth Richards
Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthElizabeth_R