Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie review: "The Secret of Kells"

Title: The Secret of Kells
Studio: Cartoon Saloon
Director: Tomm Moore
Co-director: Nora Twomey
Art director: Ross Stewart

*Starred Review*

This will be my first-ever movie review, but The Secret of Kells was just so fantastic that I couldn't pass up telling others about it. Plus, it has to do with books, namely the masterwork the Book of Kells, the world's oldest and mostly complete illuminated manuscript.

The story begins (after whispers of secrets by an unknown narrator and images of escape from a Viking-ravaged place) with 12-year-old Brandon chasing a goose, after its quills for the illuminators (those monks who create books) at the Abbey of Kells. This is around 800 AD, when the Book was created. Soon a story unfolds the likes of which I haven't seen in a good long time. Brother Aiden comes to the island, a celebrated and well-respected illuminator who escaped the Northmen on his island of Iona. Brandon is intrigued by this new character and his book, incredibly curious and eager to learn what he can. He soon becomes something of an apprentice to Brother Aiden, though secretly, as his uncle Cellach, the abbot of Kells, is incredibly strict. He forbids Brandon from going outside the walls of the abbey to protect him from outside dangers, and eventually forbids him from working with Brother Aiden. Brandon's curiosity and desire to please Brother Aiden and help with the Book cause him to disobey and venture into the woods, where he meets Aisling, a mystical creature who claims she owns the forest. But when the Northmen attack Kells, Brandon and Brother Aiden, with the aid of Aisling, know they must protect the Book at all costs.

Where to begin. The animation in this film is absolutely exquisite. Full of detail and vibrant color, the textured drawings are angular at some points and full and curvy at others, giving each character incredible definition and distinctness from his or her surroundings. The illuminations that are being drawn by the characters float and move on their own, giving us viewers the sense that the words and images the illuminators are creating are far more important and powerful than Abbot Cellach believes them to be. The way the animation moves and flows is gentle and striking in its subtlety.

Celtic mythology plays a large part in this movie, as well—monsters and fairies lend to its mystical tone.

The musical score is absolutely brilliant, and I think I'm going to try to get my hands on a copy of it one way or the other (there is no CD on Amazon, just MP3s, but that might have to be it). Both haunting and lively, the Celtic-inspired score complements the action and animation of the film.

The characters are all wonderful. Brandon is a boy who must face his fears and do what's right, despite the fact that his uncle (also in charge of the abbey) tries to force him in an opposite direction. It's clear that Cellach loves Brandon but is not sure how to show it, and thus keeps him locked up in order to keep him safe, not realizing that he is stunting Brandon's growth in the process. Aisling is spritely and quick, with the power to communicate with nature and ask it to do as she wishes—a trait that she uses to help Brandon even at great risk to herself (and her fear of certain places and things). She is truly loyal, and does what she can to help.

And the Northmen are terrifying. Large and hulking, they are not depicted as human. They are stone statues come to life, without faces, killing and burning everything and everyone they attempt to conquer. They're voices are deep and rumbling grunts that go through you and strike fear in their victims, inhuman.

There is too much to say about this movie for this one little review. The raw emotion I felt while watching it surprised me. I can't remember the last time I sobbed while watching a movie, especially an animated film. Other times, I found myself catching my breath and what I was seeing. The beauty, horror and triumph in this story are, for me, indescribable, though I am trying.

And the best part is, this is a movie about the importance of books. The words and images Brandon studies so hard come to life for us, and for the monks. The movie is saying, Don't let us lose these all-important volumes! See to what lengths people have gone, all for the sake of creating and saving books!

As for the audience, I wouldn't show this to very young children, as there are some disturbing scenes, as well as scary ones.

I have been lucky enough to see the Book of Kells with my own eyes, and it is truly something to behold. If you ever find yourself in Dublin, Ireland, make your way over to Trinity Church, where the Book of Kells is permanently on display for the public to see, appreciate and cherish.

Please do yourself a favor and go see this incredible movie. It's an instant play on Netflix. Or just go out and buy it, it's totally worth owning. But see it! It is remarkable, and wholly enchanting.


  1. Thanks for the rec! I know I'm going to love it.

  2. If I can get just one more person to see this, then I'm happy. :) I hope you like it as much as I did!

  3. I've heard lots of good things about this one! I'm putting it in my Netflix queue. I'm also interested in it because of the whole 'Kells' thing...for obvious reasons :)


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