Friday, February 05, 2010

Secret's Out.

Jose here with a look at the most pleasant surprise in the Oscar nominations.

Last night I had the opportunity to see The Secret of Kells (my review here).
Like almost everyone bored to death by how predictable the Oscar nominees were turning out, the mention of this film, that seemed to come out of nowhere, among the Best Animated Feature nominees rang beautifully in my ears.

I have to confess that before I saw it, I was expecting it to be one of those awful decisions AMPAS makes in this category (remember the Simpsons being snubbed in favor of another penguin movie a few years ago?) but now it amazingly turns out that it's one of the most satisfying, almost groundbreaking, decisions the Academy has taken.

Those who feel like it stole Hayao Miyazaki's spot, I have to say they're quite wrong. If a movie was to be replaced in the category it's probably Disney's The Princess and the Frog which is another showcase of how the studio has become so comfortable within its formula that it no longer can muster the magic its classics did.

Curiously the best sequence in that film is a stylized, art deco inspired, moment where Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni rose) imagines she owns a restaurant.
If like me, you also thought this was the only magical moment in the stereotype laden movie, then The Secret of Kells is the movie for you.

Based on the legends that surround the creation of the Book of Kells the film is a lovely allegory about the battle between illumination and barbarism.
It takes its cues from several Pagan myths and Celtic traditions, but its power isn't in its Herman Hesse inspired screenplay (Pixar's still pretty unsurpassed in that area) but in its lavish animation.

It references Klimt, Andrei Rublev, Dadaism, Medieaval tableaux, Mayan and early Latin American monuments, some Tolkien, Samurai Jack, Cretan ceramics, chalk illustration Japanese watercolors among others. But does so in a smooth, elegant way that will make you want to run out and get a book on art history the minute the credits start rolling.

Its simple yet fascinating animation style also recalls the great work done in the mid-twentieth century by the Russian Soyuzdetmultfilm-Studio.

Its passion for graphic history reminded me of the cinematic history crash course provided in WALL-E and as such both movies are true landmarks in their specific field.

But honestly don't take my word for it and run to your theater the minute this movie opens.

You're gonna want to see these come to life...



ok, now I'm excited!

Andrew R. said...

I'm excited too! This really does look beautiful!

Princess and the Frog was undoubtably the weakest nominee in Animated, so replace it with Ponyo for a perfect lineup!

Unknown said...

Nathaniel, you are a marvel. You should write a BOOK... Please please!


Tim, Jose wrote this article.

but yes... I should write a book! :)

Robert said...

I am an animation addict and I absolutely cannot wait to see "The Secret of Kells"!

Evan said...

Actually, I liked The Princess and the Frog. I loved the characters (Louis and Ray? C'mon!) and thought other than the whole princess theme and general story arc, it avoided the stock situations usually found in the films (ex: Lotti helps out Tiana in the end rather than being selfish, as we might expect).

Mark said...

I have to agree with Evan I quite enjoyed The Princess and the Frog. Thought the characters were pretty good.

Davey said...

"The Princess and the Frog" earned its nomination in animated film fair and square.

Can't wait to get a chance to see "The Secret of Kells" though.

Hayden said...

I love how the Thumbelina animation is so different from Disney films of the 1960's. Mostly because there's no trace of that shadowy quality WDC background designers seemed to love. You know, those drab, shadowy forest/drapery/bedroom scenes that invariably made the princess *pop*.

Gotta love animators who aren't afraid of letting the background speak as loudly as Alan Menken. Not to suggest Alan Menken was working in the 60's, but you know what I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

In addition the the obvious Samurai Jack influence, "Kells" also draws a lot of influence from animator Richard Williams' unfinished feature "The Thief and the Cobbler," another marvel of unsung animation that has to be seen to be believed.

Mme de Tourvelle said...

Plus let's not forget it's mostly a Belgian-produced film :-p, which is my wonderful country.

txtcritic said...

Hrm. Wish I was as taken by it as you were.

I liked it, I s'pose. I thought it was tremendous to look at -- the animation style is glorious -- but the story/dialogue/characters: eh, not so much.

Kind of like the animation equivalent of "Avatar."

Glenn Dunks said...

If this category was to throw up a random, incredibly arty choice I was expecting Mary and Max and anybody who has seen that will argue that it deserved a nomination anyway, but this Secret of Kells sounds great too. I hope it gets a release now.