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Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy (Blu-ray Review)


The Film (The Secret of Kells)
The Video (The Secret of Kells)
The Audio (The Secret of Kells)
The Supplements (The Secret of Kells)
The Film (Song of the Sea)
The Video (Song of the Sea)
The Audio (Song of the Sea)
The Supplements (Song of the Sea)
The Film (Wolfwalkers)
The Video (Wolfwalkers)
The Audio (Wolfwalkers)
The Supplements (Wolfwalkers)
The Supplements (Overall Collection)


The fantastical trilogy of animated folk tales from Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon is gathered in this gorgeous collectible set from GKIDS/Shout! Factory.

For many years there was one studio that ruled them all when it came to animation, and that was Walt Disney. One can hardly discuss animated feature films without going back to such legendary classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or their latter-day renaissance films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. But Disney’s dominance has long been challenged, a lot of it from overseas. There was pressure that came from such Japanese powerhouse studios like Studio Ghibli with marvelous fantasies like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. There was also heavy homebred competition from the likes of Pixar with their 3DCG animated classics like Toy Story, Up!, and The Incredibles, so much so that Disney would eventually buy them out from Steve Jobs. Now we have the Irish indie animation studio Cartoon Saloon who came crashing out of the gates with the brilliant and beautiful The Secret of Kells before finishing up an entire tryptich of folktale animated features that has now been completed and gathered together in this beautiful collection, Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy, from GKIDS and Shout! Factory.

Directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s The Secret of Kells garnered a surprise nomination in the animation category at the Academy Awards against the likes of Up, Coraline, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

A fantastical hand-drawn animated story filled with lavish visuals and the splendor of childlike wonder, The Secret of Kells blends Celtic mythology with religious iconography to tell the story of a young boy named Brendan (Evan McGuire) who is in training to be a monk. Brendan sets out from his abbey at Kells and ventures into a mysterious forest to help complete the famed illuminated bible of Kells.

Helping him on his journey through the forest he finds a young and magical sprite named Aisling (Christen Mooney). The two develop a charming friendship and battle through the darkness together. But back at the abbey, other concerns are pressing — the place must be fortified by invading hordes of Vikings.

The Secret of the Kells may not have the same tight, driving narrative of a Pixar film, but its visuals come to life like a fairy tale leaping from a storybook or a young child’s unhindered imagination. It’s a marvelous sight to behold and its 75-minutes fly by like a cool spring breeze.

The second film in Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy is arguably the most gorgeous of the three. Song of the Sea (2014), from director Tomm Moore, follows the story of a young boy named Ben (David Rawle) and his younger sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell). The siblings have grown up without a mother after their mother, it is implied, died during childbirth while having Saoirse. They were raised by their father Conor (Brendan Gleeson), who finds he can no longer handle the pair on his own and sends them to live with their Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) who lives in the city. While there, Ben and Saoirse discover that she is a Selkie and the last of the seal children. The siblings then must go on an adventure to help rescue the last of the fairies as they experience a fantastical world of magic and wonder they never knew existed.

Closing out the trilogy is the Apple Original Film Wolfwalkers, from co-writers/co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart and still streaming on Apple TV+. Stylistically this film looks more like The Secret of Kells than Song of the Sea, but the three films all draw heavily from world of Celtic and pre-Renaissance art. Set in 1650 Kilkenny during the Cromwellian conquering of Ireland. Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) the young daughter of an English hunter moves with her father (Sean Bean) to Ireland to aid in the Lord protector’s plan to rid Kilkenny of wolves that have been plaguing the area. The headstrong Robyn who fancies herself the hunter’s apprentice, goes out to search for wolves and ends up befriending a feral girl named Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who turns out to be a shapeshifter, a member of the legendary tribe of Wolfwalkers.

The Video

The Secret of Kells is framed at 1.78:1 while the other two films, Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, are framed at 1.85:1. All three come in AVC 1080p encodements. They all look brilliant, with vibrant colors and crisp line art, nuanced shadows, and superb contrast. The Secret of Kells remains the only one that has obvious banding in the color fills, the only flaw that can be spotted in the collection, which is nearly flawless.

The Audio

All three films are granted lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes. The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers have the strongest mixes of the three and are very similar in their use of the channels, with a lot of surround panning of foley effects, voices coming from behind, squeaking of doors off to the side, rainstorms surrounding you, and so on. Song of the Sea is also a solid mix, but it seems a little more reserved than the other two, with the surround channels carrying more atmospherics and music than solid effects, only occasionally becoming more active.

The Supplements

Below see a list of all the bonus features and disc specific technical details.

Exclusive to this release: 40-page book with essay and concept art, folded mini-poster. Beautiful, rigid glossy slipcover. Packaged in environmentally packaging utilizing 50% recycled or renewable materials; soy-based inks are non-toxic and 100% biodegradable.

Disc 1

Secret of Kells

1.78:1 AVC 1080p

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Secondary: English Descriptive Audio 5.1

Subs: English SDH | Spanish

Bonus Features:

  • Master Illuminators: Audio commentary with the director, co-director, and art director
  • Voices of Ireland (1080p; 00:10:49)
  • Director’s Presentation (1080i; 00:26:59)
  • Pencil-to-Picture (1080p; 00:08:40)
  • Aisling at the Oscars (720p; 00:00:19)
  • Concept Trailer w/optional commentary (1080i; 00:04:07)
  • U.S. Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:02:02)

Disc 2

Song of the Sea

1.85:1 AVC 1080p

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Secondary: English Descriptive Audio 5.1 | French DTS 5.1

Subs: English SDH | French | Spanish

Bonus Features:

  • Commentary with director Tomm Moore
  • Behind the Scenes w/Optional Commentary (1080p; 00:02:50)
  • Animation Tests w/Optional Commentary (1080p; 00:07:48)
  • The Art of Song of the Sea (1080p; 00:07:25)
  • Conceptual Trailer (1080p; 00:00:56)
  • S. Trailers (1080p; 00:03:01)

Disc 3


1.85:1 AVC 1080p

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Secondary: English Descriptive Audio 5.1 | Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1| Irish DD 5.1

Subs: English SDH | Spanish

Bonus Features:

  • Commentary with director Tomm Moore and screenwriter Will Collins
  • Interviews with the Voice Cast (1080p; 00:24:19)
  • Voicing Wolfwalkers (1080p; 00:03:57)
  • The Music of Wolfwalkers (1080p; 00:01:48)
  • Behind “Running with the Wolves” (1080p; 00:03:00)
  • How to Draw: Wolf, Mebh, Forest (1080p; 00:33:44)
  • Character Design of Wolfwalkers (1080p; 01:00:07)
  • Wolfwalkers 2020 Comic-Con Panel (1080p; 00:26:37)
  • Conceptual Trailer (1080p; 00:01:51)
  • Behind the Scenes Trailer (1080p; 00:02:52)

Disc 4

 Bonus Disc (Exclusive to this release)

  • The Secret of Kells Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1080p)
  • Song of the Sea Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1080p)
  • Wolfwalkers Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1080p)
  • Reading of Pangur Bán by Mick Lally (1080p; 00:01:05)
  • SPLANC!: Cartoon Saloon (1080p; 00:27:05)
  • The Two Worlds of Wolfwalkers (1080p; 00:15:59)
  • Irish Folklore Trilogy U.S. Trailer (1080p; 00:02:16)

The Final Assessment

A magnificent trilogy of visually stunning, moving films brought together in a gorgeous set of reference quality discs. Animation fans, nay, film fans should feel obliged to add this to their collection and the packaging will look lovely up on the shelf. Highly Recommended.

Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy is out on Blu-ray December 14, 2021 from GKIDS & Shout! Factory

  • Studios & Distributors: Cartoon Saloon | Apple Original Films | GKIDS | Shout! Factory
  • Directors: Tomm Moore | Nora Twomey | Ross Stewart
  • Written By: Tomm Moore | Fabrice Ziolkowski | Ross Stewart | Will Collins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 | 1.85:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: English Descriptive Audio 5.1 | French DTS 5.1| Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1| Irish DD 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH | French | Spanish

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The fantastical trilogy of animated folk tales from Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon is gathered in this gorgeous collectible set from GKIDS/Shout! Factory.Cartoon Saloon's Irish Folklore Trilogy (Blu-ray Review)