The Secret of Kells (2009) – Ireland, France, and Belgium
Summary: In a remote medieval outpost of Ireland, young Brendan embarks on a new life of adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from foreign lands carrying a book brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide.
Recommendation: Aisling is my favorite part of this movie and I had hoped to see more of her before the credits, but I suppose this story is about Brendan and his lifelong work. The book is never explained as to what it does or how it works, but the page illustrations are AMAZING. There are so many colors and movements and special effects used visually, this movie is a winner even if you feel you don’t fully grasp the story.
The Breadwinner (2017) – Canada, the Republic of Ireland, and Luxembourg
Summary: Parvana is an eleven-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy in order to support her family. Working alongside her friend Shauzia, Parvana discovers a new world of freedom, and danger. With undaunted courage, Parvana draws strength from the fantastical stories she invents, as she embarks on a quest to find her father and reunite her family.
Recommendation: Both the story and the visuals are wonderful here, especially if you start with the knowledge that this setting takes place in 2001 (why we see electric wiring, jets, and automobiles). A notable quality is the multilayered tales told with different animation styles. When Parvana is talking about Sulayman’s adventures, the imagined action is illustrated with a torn/cut paper effect and brilliant lighting. The use of color is fantastic, especially in the landscapes and sunsets. I’ve never read the original book, and this makes me consider doing so.
Lu Over the Wall (2017) – Japan
Summary: After his family moves from Tokyo to a small fishing village, teenager Kai spends his days sulking and adrift. When his classmates invite him to play keyboard in their band, their jam sessions bring an unexpected guest: Lu, a young mermaid whose fins turn to feet when she hears the beats, and whose singing causes humans to compulsively dance. But when an ancient prophecy threatens Lu and the village, Kai and his new friends must save the day in this toe-tapping adventure for the entire family.
Recommendation: This work is rated PG, but there are some serious moments regarding poaching, fishing/hunting, and the kidnapping/trapping/conflagration of individuals in a modern setting. If you have seen Ponyo, Lu Over the Wall is the psychedelic big sister for teens. The music is supposed to be catchy and memorable (eh), but keep your focus on the characters and their relationships. There’s a lot of fun to be had tempered by those serious moments I mentioned. I particularly loved their version of mermaid canon (how their bite turned nearly anyone into a version of a mer-thing), especially after it started happening to the dogs.