I love Disney, and I’m sure you do too. Disney has given us such classics as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. But Disney has turned those movies and others into live action because, apparently, they care more about making money than anything else. With all these remakes, it makes one wish for the days of hand drawn animation. While Disney has kicked that form of animation to the curb, there are still studios utilizing it.
As it’s the month to celebrate St. Paddy, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Cartoon Saloon. This is a small animation studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland, with only 80+ employees so far. They work on both film and TV, as well as provide illustration and design services.
Cartoon Saloon was founded in 1999 by Tomm Moore, Paul Young and Nora Twomey. The three studied together at Ballyfermot College of Further Education in Dublin. There, they begun working on their first animated film, The Secret of Kells.
The film is about a boy named Brendan who lives a sheltered life at an abbey. One day, an illuminator (someone who decorates manuscripts) arrives with an unfinished book, and beckons Brendan to help him finish it. The book turns out to be the Book of Kells, a real, illuminated manuscript that was written around 800 AD.
This is one of my favorite animated movies. The animation is beautiful and vibrant, taking inspiration from Celtic and medieval art. The film also takes inspiration from Celtic mythology with the inclusion of a pre-Christian deity and a forest fairy.
Despite being only 75 minutes long, there’s a lot to savor with all the details of each frame. Not to mention that the plot is immersive, and it makes you wish the film was longer once it ends.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award back in 2010, and lost to Up. Now, I don’t blame Up for winning. because I absolutely love that film. I’m glad Secret of Kells at least got nominated because I wouldn’t have known the film existed without the Academy.
Secret of Kells is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime and Google Play.
Song of the Sea is the second film made by Cartoon Saloon. It follows two children, Ben and Saorise. Saorise is a selkie, a creature from Scottish and Irish mythology that can change from a seal to a human. The two go on a journey to free fairy creatures that have been trapped, and face other obstacles along the way.
I thought the plot was a bit weaker than its predecessor, but the lore behind it is interesting. It reminds me somewhat of The Little Mermaid, music even plays a big role in the film. The music is also nice and poignant, not as memorable as The Little Mermaid’s, but it’s still lovely.
Another strong aspect of the film is the animation. It’s charming and the character designs are fun. On that note, I enjoy how the characters are drawn in these films. They have simple designs, but they’re unique and blend well with the scenes. On another note with these films, it’s neat that children are always the main protagonists. Children are easier for the audience to sympathize with, after all, and so watching them face conflict is more engaging.
The film was also nominated for an Academy Award but lost to Big Hero 6. It was also nominated for other awards such as the 42nd Annual Annie Awards for Music in a Feature Production, and Writing in an Animated Feature. It also won Best Animated Feature Film at the 28th European Film Awards.
Song of the Sea is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
The Breadwinner is Cartoon Saloon’s latest film, which came out in 2017. It’s a more mature film compared to the others, but it still has heartwarming moments. The story’s about a girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family in a Taliban controlled city. It’s also based off the best selling book by Deborah Ellis.
The film was directed by Nora Twomey, and she was nominated for Outstanding Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production at the 45th Annie Awards. The film also won the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature. This actually marks the first time that a sole female director won the award.
Despite this being animated, some scenes can actually be hard to watch. Even when the audience is unable to see something clearly, hearing the terror in the character’s voices is enough to make your skin crawl.
Saara Chaudry voices Parvana, and she does an excellent job bringing this character to life. She’s a Canadian actress but is of Pakistani/Indian heritage. Chaudry won an ACTRA Award for Best Voice Performance, and was also a finalist for Voice Acting in a Feature Production at the 45th Annie Awards.
Going back to the animation, it’s simple like the other films, but the colors take a grittier tone, complementing well with the somber setting. However, when Parvana is telling a story, the animation changes to a different style. The colors are more vibrant, and the character designs and movements are exaggerated. It’s quite the contrast, but a welcoming one as audiences would want to get away from the dark situations.
The Breadwinner is currently available to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio that should be appreciated more. They tell unique stories with unique animation, proving that 2D animation is still alive and well. Even though they’ve only made three feature length films so far, in addition to a few TV shows and shorts, they’ve shown to be exceptional creators in the entertainment industry.
Currently, the studio is working on two new movies, and a couple more TV shows. They’re still growing strong despite being a small company, but the quality of their work is truly what shines.
Originally published by Lauren Massuda on March 17, 2020.