The Secret of Kells

130: The Secret of Kells Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, The Princess and the Frog, Coraline, Redline, Mary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

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The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

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So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the Sea. The Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

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Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

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In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

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Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!  

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits #2: What's Cam Looking Forward To? 5/5/17

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

So, in my personal life, I love to make emails about a bunch of upcoming films for my family, who may or may not know much about what’s coming out. I recently did an email with all the upcoming animated films that are being released here in the states or somewhere around the world where I hope they get a stateside release. I decided to make a series of Animation Tidbits, where I show off some trailers or clips of upcoming animated films that have caught my eye. Now, some of these are already well known, but I’m sure many people have not heard of many of the films listed in this editorial. Let’s get started.

Early Man 

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Up first is the trailer for Nick Park’s newest stop-motion feature, Early Man. I mean, I love Aardman Entertainment and all of their films. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be up for this one. While I don’t usually get super-hyped for big-named cast members in general anymore, I think Early Man has an incredible cast, including Tom Hiddleston (Marvel films, The Night Manager), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Timothy Spall (The Last Samurai, Enchanted, and Sweeney Todd), and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). Unfortunately, I have to wait until 2018 for this promising flick.

Coco

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While Cars 3 doesn’t technically look terrible, and it does seem like Pixar wants to make a good movie from this flawed and merchandise-spewing trilogy, Pixar’s original film is what I’m looking forward to more. Yes, it’s another animated film based on Day of the Dead, and I do know the pointless turf war Coco fans and The Book of Life fans brought up with each other on Twitter with the two films’ directors, but it’s Pixar. I know their recent track record has been bumpy, but I usually feel like I can be excited and love their original content. The voice cast for this film is also pretty stellar with Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Renee Victor, and newcomer Anthony Gonzalez. Hopefully, this becomes another great original film in Pixar’s line up.

Wolfwalkers

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I’m patiently waiting (badly) to hear a release date, and for GKids to pick this film up. Wolfwalkers is the next film by two-time Oscar-nominated director Tomm Moore, who was the director of Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. The animation looks beautiful, you can sense and feel the atmosphere and Irish cultural elements, and it’s a downright gorgeous 2D animated film. I do wish the movie-going world would give this director and the super talented team at Cartoon Saloon a lot of support.

Gatta Cenerentola

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Or as it’s known in English, Cat Cinderella. This is the first obscure film that I hope gets an English release. It’s an Italian CGI animated film, using mostly motion-capture for the animation. It’s a modern dark take on the Cinderella story, and it looks amazing. I know the movements can come off as clunky, since motion-capture can be finicky if not done correctly, but I think the tone, setting, and the idea will elevate it. Plus, it has a gorgeous art style, and I could listen to that song in the trailer all day.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

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If you watched the amazing Ernest & Celestine, the art style should look familiar to you, since one of the directors of the film, Benjamin Renner is behind this film. It’s based off of his comic, and while the trailer is in French, you can pretty much understand what is going on. It has good animation, a great sense of humor, and it’s just adorable. Hopefully, GKids can pick this one up.

Calamity

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One of my favorite films from last year was the French film, Long Way North. While I think it went under the radar way too much last year, the same group that made Long Way North are back with another female lead-driven film. While it might be based on the historical figure, Calamity Jane, the filmmakers are taking on the character in their own story. I know that might be a bad idea in some cases, but Long Way North was so fantastic, and these guys know what they are doing.

 Icarus

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While I love a lot of the films on this list, I think Icarus has me the most excited in terms of the setting. It’s a mixed-media animated film, using CGI and beautiful 2D animation. It makes the three Greek Gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite not just Gods, but Newspaper Journalist Gods as they try to weave interesting tales out of Greek Mythology for the paper. First off, the idea itself is awesome. I could see a lot of commentary about journalistic integrity, and how a lot of sites like to use clickbait-style headlines for not very interesting stories. I also love the combination of CGI and the lovely 2D animation. You just watch the trailer, and you get a lot of great visual eye candy. It also helps that there is a Pixar Veteran directing the film named Carlos Volgele. I just love the idea, and I definitely want GKids or Shout! Factory to bring it over.

Well, there you have it. These are the animated films that I am looking forward to at this point in time. I will do these from time to time when I find enough films to warrant a list like this, but do expect more of these. I might do these more so than a “Most Anticipated Films of –insert year here-“lists. Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a good day!

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016 Part 2

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Welcome back, everyone, to part 2 of this very long list. As usual, if you haven’t seen part 1, here is a link to it. I’m counting down the worst-to-the-best animated films that I saw from 2016, and we shall now move onto the films that are middle of the road, disappointing, and at the very least, visually interesting.

27. Monkey King: Hero is Back

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Want an example of one of the worst dubs that I can ever think of? This movie is the prime example of a distributor that didn’t really care about pushing out a good dub for this popular Chinese-animated CGI action flick. It sounds like they were rushing to get this out, and ignored the level of quality. Even then, a good dub wouldn’t have saved the other problems this film has, like its very Hollywoodized version of the legendary folk tale, horrible jokes, the multiple times the kid should have died but didn’t, and the better than most, but still middling animation. The fight scenes are fun to watch, and out of all the Chinese-animation schlock that Lionsgate, for some reason, likes to bring over, Monkey King: Hero is Back is watchable. It’s the most watchable one out of those films, but that doesn’t mean much when the rest isn’t worth sitting through.

26. Justice League vs. Teen Titans

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Man, it was kind of tough to say this was better than The Killing Joke, because I don’t like this one a lot either. Not only is the title misleading, since the Titans don’t fight the actual League members, but rather fight Trigon-possessed version of them, and get floored by them, but it also focuses way too much on quite possibly the worst character in the current DC-animated film universe, Damian Wayne. Yes, I get why he is as he is, and he does get a good fight later on in the film, but they focused way too much on the guy when it wasn’t really his story. This left the film with very underdeveloped characters that I hope get more screen-time in the upcoming Teen Titans: The Judas Contract(spoiler alert: They do.). I do like some of the characters and the scenes in Justice League vs. Teen Titans, but if this was supposed to be the one reason why we got Young Justice season 3, or anything Teen Titans-related, then I feel scammed, because I had to support a bad movie to get good stuff!

25. The Angry Birds Movie

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Talk about a film that had no reason to be anything but terrible, and ended up a rather decent experience. While I don’t think it’s a great movie, it probably had more effort put into its writing and characters, than any of the previous films on this list. For the most part, I still enjoyed the film’s dialogue, the jokes, and Red and his cohorts were fun to watch. Yeah, everything starts to dissolve into terrible film tripe when the pigs show up, the Mighty Eagle played by Peter Dinklage was pointless and easily the worst part of the movie beyond the celebrity cameos, but by the end, I was enjoying myself due to the voice work. While definitely a mediocre film, it’s the best video game adaptation to have come out to put a lot of the video game film adaptations to shame.

24. The Secret Life of Pets

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While I’m fine with this film doing well in the box office, since it shows “original” films can do well, The Secret Life of Pets still feels so painfully average. It doesn’t do anything in its story well, but it’s not bad either in what it does. I can see why people were so upset with this film’s success, due to how unoriginal and bland it can be. It also doesn’t help that it had 100 different characters who had no real personality to them. Everything was well voice acted and animated well, but the writing was weak, and the characters needed more time to either be fleshed out or taken out of the film altogether. While definitely leagues better than most films from 2016, The Secret Life of Pets will be yet another example of Illumination Entertainment having a great idea, but no noteworthy execution of said idea.

23. Trolls

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Honestly, this film was much higher on the list at one time. I loved the art style, the animation, the voice work, and some of the fairytale-style ideas. I also loved the idea of happiness that it attempted to show throughout the film. Because of all this, it rose above such horrible first impressions with that very first teaser trailer. However, as time went on, I kept bumping it down the list. It might have great ideas, but it never takes full advantage of them. About 80% of the characters don’t have any real character to them outside of their celebrity voices, and much of this otherwise-solid movie felt very manufactured. Like, really? Did we need Gwen Stefani as one of the characters, when she barely has a voice or role? Still, it’s an enjoyable watch, but I get why some were not so happy about this film.

22. Belladonna of Sadness

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Yes, this one counts, since it was never released in the states, even though it came out in the 1970s. Belladonna of Sadness was the final film from this adult animated trilogy that was started by the grandfather of all anime creators, Osamu Tezuka. It’s a beautifully abstract animated film, with all the trippy sexual energy you would see in an animated films from the 70s aimed at adults. Unfortunately, due to how limited the actual animation is, and how uncomfortable the beginning of the film is, its sexual themes will probably turn off a lot of people to this film. It’s the one film I can think of where I will agree and disagree at the same time if you love or hate this movie. It’s a bizarre and interesting experience that is definitely worth checking out if you are into film or animation history.

21. Sausage Party

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Just like Trolls, Sausage Party was higher on the list at one point, but as usual, I thought about it and bumped it down a few pegs. It was mostly because while I found the film funny, a lot of its humor was “miss”, since I’m picky about my stoner humor, and of course, the controversy revolving around the abused animators really does bring this film down. It’s a shame, too, because there was a lot of effort put into its themes and writing, it was a hilarious parody of Pixar-style films, and it’s great that this film opened the door for more animated films to be aimed at adults. It’s still a blast to watch, but your mileage may vary depending on who you are, but hey, that’s comedy.

20. Storks

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This was an amusing surprise, and a sad tragedy that this film didn’t do better in terms of box office numbers. I won’t deny that I get why people are split on this film, but at the very least, I sat through the entire film and found it to be a really great comedic watch. Yes, its world-building and characters are not well fleshed out, but it had the best comedy of the comedy-based animated films of the year. It had beautiful, fast-paced animation, a great comedic cast of actors, and it’s an entertaining experience. I wish it was better, since it doesn’t reach The LEGO Movie or Shrek 2, in terms of animated comedy heights, but I’m definitely going to be watching this one again in the future.

19. SING

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Oh, hey, look, another Illumination Entertainment film is low on the list. While I do admire that the studio was branching out in 2016 with two new films that are not Despicable Me-related, it still had plenty of the flaws you would find in these films, with underdeveloped characters, stories, and, once again, a great crowd-pleasing idea that isn’t taken fully advantage of. It was really aggravating, because this film’s advertising was everywhere, to an extremely nauseating degree. Even then, I still had fun watching this movie. The animation was great, the designs are solid, the contestants are relatable and likable, the music is fantastic, the actors did a great job portraying their characters, and it was a film I’m glad was better than what I was thinking it would be. I always like being surprised. I just hope Illumination can step up their game with future films.

That is it for Part 2 of the list, be prepared for part 3 in the future.

The Other Side of Animation 64: Long Way North Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

While I do think GKids is the best foreign/indie animation distributor, I wish more companies were like them. There are probably a slew of great foreign animated films, new and old, that we never get to see. It always seems like besides the stuff GKids brings over, companies will bring over the worst of the worst because they are cheap and won’t cost a lot to get some B or C-list celebrities to voice the characters. Not to say they are all utter schlock, but you have to look pretty hard to find one of these cheap films that are actually competent. Luckily, some companies still know quality when they see it, and to the best of their abilities, bring it over for everyone to see. You have Sentai Filmworks who brought over Short Peace, Funimation bringing over the amazing movies by Mamoru Hosoda, and now we have a new contender, Shout! Factory Kids. This is the family/children spin-off of horror/sci-fi distributors Shout! Factory. So far, their animated film offerings have been just okay. They have some unique films, like the French-made Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, A Monster in Paris, which I have already reviewed, and the Canadian-produced Snowtime! And yes, I will get to them during Christmas. However, to me, their best-to-date, in terms of what they have brought over, is today’s review, Long Way North. This French/Danish collaboration is from first-time director Rémi Chayé. This might be his first directorial job, but he has been around the European animation scene for a good while, and has worked on many classic animated films. Heck, a lot of people on here worked on some of the best overseas-animated films of all time. It’s like a European animation version of The Avengers. Rémi Chayé worked on films that include The Painting, The Secret of Kells, and Eleanor’s Secret. One of the producers, Claus Toksvig Kjaer, was a producer on Song of the Sea. Another producer for Long Way North, Henri Magalon, was a producer on Ernest & Celestine. The composer, Jonathan Morali, also has his name under the critically acclaimed video game, Life is Strange. The individuals in charge of the art direction, Han Jin Kuang Liane-Cho, worked on The Illusionist, Ethel & Ernest, Zarafa, and The Little Prince, and Slaven Reese worked on Ethel & Ernest, Song of the Sea, Zarafa, and The Prophet.  Like, wow, you’ve got some really good individuals involved with this movie. So, is it as good as the 100% critic score or the 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes rating it has as of October 23rd, 2016? Well, let’s find out.

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The film takes place in Russia in 1882. We follow the story of a young Russian aristocrat named Sasha, voiced by Chloe Dunn. Sasha is still getting over the supposed death of her grandfather, Olukine, who left on a journey across the ocean to find the North Pole. After an incident with a royal snob that would have promised her father a strong political spot, Sasha decides to go off on her own to find a ship to go in search of her grandfather and his ship. What will she find? What will happen to her?

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I want to start with the animation since it’s fairly unique. At least, to me it’s unique. Long Way North has a beautiful art style, but the animation is very simple. It’s not super-fast or detailed. However, it’s very expressive, and you can easily get a lot of the emotions from the characters. It’s a beautiful movie with lush countrysides, freezing landscapes, and you can essentially feel the salty air in the seaside town Sasha finds herself in during the film. This film definitely has a vibe that you would see in a Mamoru Hosoda film or something from Studio Ghibli, with characters that can be tough, but with a kind heart to them. Sure, there are some crabby individuals, and I will get to them later in the review, but this film has something that reminds me of the interactions you see in films like Castle in the Sky or The Boy and the Beast. Long Way North also has a more mature tone. It’s nice to see this be a rather dark film in the later part. You don’t know if Sasha will actually find her grandfather’s ship and make it back. Sasha is a great character who is smart, active, and is willing to learn new things, and you want to see her succeed, but man, it can be grim later on. Not enough to ruin the film, but it can be as dark as something like Song of the Sea. The overall adventure is enjoyable to watch, with the highs and lows being pretty balanced, and the highs don’t overshadow the lows.

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I was hooked on this movie from beginning to end. However, I do have some complaints. They are minor, but I should bring them up. The royal prince that you see in the film should have been taken out. He has no real character besides being a spoiled jerk. Heck, he only appears at the beginning and the end of the film. I don’t see why he had to be an ignition point for the story to get started. Why not have Sasha find the navigations on her own, and then try to deal with her parents, who are not outwardly dealing with the loss of the grandfather, but don’t want to hear that there might be a possible way to find out what happened to him. I also feel like they could have made the film a bit longer. The real end of the film is the still frames in the credits. It would have felt more powerful if we got to see it all in motion. The pacing could also use some work. Long Way North flows pretty well, but there are some bits all over the movie that could have been better.

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Long Way North might not be anything innovative or groundbreaking, but it’s a freaking good movie. It’s simple, but well executed. It’s hopeful, but it’s not afraid to be tough. It has simple animation, but it’s gorgeous and well done. If you have a theater playing this movie, you should really see it. It’s one of my favorite films of 2016. It’s easily in my top 10. It’s also coming out on DVD in January, but still, find some way to watch this great movie. Next time, we will look at one of the most popular Japanese films of recent years with Miss Hokusai. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials