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Saturday, February 12, 2011

THE SECRET OF KELLS (2009)

Irish animator Tomm Moore had a great idea when he used the distinctive style of medieval illuminated manuscripts, especially the famous Book of Kells, as design elements on this debut feature. Less great was his idea to base his story on the creation of such a book. The approach works best when Moore gives us overviews of landscapes (verdant forests alive with rich fauna & angular threatening wolves in slashes of black & red) or architecture (walled fortresses alive with scaffolds, chapels & warworks). But his story is only moderately involving, and peopled with assorted men who never venture beyond a bold initial character stroke. Choosing such an abstract drawing style removes the subtleties of facial modeling and makes for a cast of puppets; great for massed movement but dead on close-ups. You’ll see why the critics were cheered by the film's hand-drawn artisanal grit, such a relief from their regular diet of Pop-referenced, wise-ass 3-D CGI product. But you’ll also see why the film barely grossed half a mill. Kids don’t grade on effort.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: R. O. Blechman’s picture book, THE JUGGLER OF OUR LADY/’58 (from the famous & touching fable by Anatole France), was beautifully caught on-screen in his distinctive ‘buzzy’ style. Alas, the gorgeous WideScreen one-reel original is little known, displaced by a tv friendly Pan-and-Scan bastardization.


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