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SECRET OF KELLS, THE (director: Tomm Moore/Nora Twomey; screenwriter: Fabrice Ziolkowski/character design by Mr. Moore and Barry Reynolds; cinematographer: ; editor: Fabienne Alvarez-Giro; music: Bruco Coulais; cast: Evan McGuire (Brendan), Mick Lally (Brother Aidan), Christen Mooney (Aisling), Brendan Gleeson (Abbot Cellach), Liam Hourican (Brother Tang/Leonardo), Paul Tylak (Brother Assoua), Michael McGrath (Adult Brendan), Paul Young (Brother Square); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ivan Rouveure; GKIDS; 2009-Ireland/France/Belgium)
“Is so wonderfully accomplished that it can stand on its own alongside the Book of Kells as a magnificently beautiful work.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This unorthodox two-dimensional animation (with mostly hand-drawn animations from illustrators in three different countries) on a Celtic legend is marvelously codirected by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. It tells of the illustrated legendary Irish manuscript, The Book of Kells, containing the Four Gospels of the New Testament, pictures of saints, animals and illustrious illustrations on God’s creation of nature (the book was used in the ritual mass). “Kells” was begun in the monastery in Iona, probably at the beginning of the eighth century (its history is sketchy). Since the mid-19th century it has been hailed as an Irish national treasure and housed at Trinity College in Dublin, where the public can view it.

The Secret of Kells received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature, and is so wonderfully accomplished that it can stand on its own alongside the Book of Kells as a magnificently beautiful work.

“Kells” tells the story of the curious 10-year-old Brendan(Evan McGuire), a novice who dwells at a remote medieval Irish abbey in Kells run by his stern uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). The Abbot is busy fortifying the walls of the abbey in the days before a Viking invasion, and thinks that’s the only way to protect his community from the evil barbarian invaders. Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), known as the great sage and great illustrator, visits the Kells from his monastery in Iona (the monastery was destroyed by the barbarians) and brings with him the almost complete Book of Kells that the monks were creating for the last two hundred years. When he learns that Brendan is a talented artist and has mastered the goose-quilled pen, he has the lad go against his uncle’s orders and go to the forest outside the walled abbey to pick special berries from the oak trees for the ink that will brighten the manuscript with bright ochre, purple and green colors. The lad, who has never had contact with the outside world, is besieged by monsters and gets help in the enchanted forest locating the berries from a magical fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney)–a mysterious young wolf-girl. The scenes in the forest with Brendan and his cat Pangur Ban were magical, as they appeared to open up in a splash of stunning colors as if from the pages of the Book of Kells. When the lad returns with the berries he’s punished by the Abbot, who thinks working on the book is a waste of time and that everyone should be busy strengthening the wall. But the lad is sent out again by Brother Aidan to retrieve in the forest an eye needed to finish the manuscript (actually a magnifying glass that the monk needed to see the finely detailed artwork as he labored by candlelight) and again with the help of Aisling is successful in obtaining the eye from a snake who possessed it. With that, Brendan is entrusted to complete an important part of the Kells as Aidan’s eyesight is fading–unfortunately the book was never fully completed.

The barbarians eventually invade the abbey and pillage and destroy it. But the elderly Brother Aidan and Brendan escape with the book through a secret passage in the woods that the lad learned of from Aisling, as the culture and knowledge of Christianity from the Dark Ages is preserved–proving that the good can overcome the evil forces by respecting their enlightened artistic visions. The book also made good use of the pagan culture motifs from pre-Christian times in Ireland, by blending together pagan and Christian artwork in the book. The codirectors go out of their way to point out that was not a problem at the time for the Christians. It’s such a great artistic achievement and such a delightful film that both older children (younger children might be overwhelmed with the esoteric mythical material) as well as adults can enjoy together.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”