It is all too rare these days to see an animated film that does not look like anything else out there. It is far, far rarer to find an animated film that reminds you of why you fell in love with animation in the first place.
I am happy to report, with my clumsy typing fingers trying to be coherent at way, way too early in the morning, that "The Secret of Kells" is such a movie on both counts. It is not only one of the most truly unique animated films from the past decade, it also puts my faith back into the medium.
A surprise nomination for Best Animated Feature (which was full of good contenders this year: "Up", "The Princess and the Frog", "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "Coraline") in the 2010 Academy Awards, "Kells" is somewhat reminiscent of "The Secret of Roan Inish". Both films successfully achieve the "incredible legendary fantastical things co-exist with day-to-day mundane things, just go with it" feel that is so distinctive to Irish folklore. (To the point where a few reviewers found the combination of a Catholic monastery and a forest full of pre-Christian mythical creatures a little off-putting. Whatever, dude. I was totally cool with it. Maybe you have to be Irish to get it?)
The film is the result of a decade-long labor of love. I highly recommend watching the director's presentation in the special features. He shows all the character and production design drawings he could find, parts of the film's storyboards and "color script" (small paintings that track how the use of color in animation can enhance the mood of the story throughout the film, ie violent reds during the barbarian raids, peaceful greens during the scenes in Aisling's forest), pages from the "series bible" (the production was spread over several countries --some of which happily represented themselves by the other refugee monks at Kells in the film-- so a large collection of notes detailing the style of the film was essential), and lists several of his favorite works of animation that inspired the look of the film. There are visual nods to everything from ancient Irish art to "Samurai Jack" and "Okami". And the film is extremely intelligent as well; the creators show that they really did their research (leave it to TV Tropes to seek out all the references.)
"Secret of Kells" is right up there with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Blade Runner" (and "Land Before Time", of course) as one of the most exceptionally beautiful films I have ever seen. There is a sequence late in the film that is such a stunning triumph of hand-drawn animation that you wonder if this scene alone is what they spent most of those ten years upon.
At this point, I should really hopefully just be able to say, "Secret of Kells" is wonderful and you should watch it. Since it is available on Netflix instant watch, you should watch it right now. Like, right now. Like, instead of reading me struggling to express my love for it in words, right now.
Pink Dinosaur of the Day! Technically, I hit the fifteenth pink dinosaur a while before this guy, but I couldn't resist: