Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Secret of Kells

Illuminated by Alan Trehern

What I initially thought would be a sweet children's story told with dynamic animation and a worldly soundtrack turned out to be a sweet children's story with dynamic animation and a worldly soundtrack! I love it when I turn out to be right.

The Secret of Kells (2009)
Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey
Featuring the Voice Talents of Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Brendan Gleeson and Mick Lally

When I first started this film I could tell it had some Irish heritage attached to it. But I didn't realize until the credits that this animated classic was the endeavor of multiple countries from across the world, including Ireland, Hungary, France, Belgium and Brazil. So many national animation companies working together to make a 75-minute film? Sure! Kells was nominated for an Academy Award, so you have to give it that much.

The Secret of Kells uses fictional characters and events to weave a tale about the ancient Book of Kells, a real Irish artifact. According to, the animation style of the film is inspired by the art found in the original book. I've never seen the Book of Kells, but that's because it's found in Dublin.

In this fantastical tale, a young lad named Brendan befriends a writer named Aidan, who teaches him the art of illuminating, or writing stories in books with artistic penmanship. All the while, Brendan has never left the presumed safety of his small village. The village is constructing a HUGE wall to protect its citizens from the Viking Norsemen who are spreading and conquering across the land.

Brendan soon leaves the town and enters the enchanted forest, where he meets a fairy girl named Aisling, who can shape-shift into a wolf. Adventure ensues.

The work done on this film was extraordinary. The fine detail and mechanics of the characters and their environment made the movie not only watchable, but fun to do so. You never knew what the next scene would look like, and that gives the film an added characteristic that not many other projects can boast.

The feel and look of this movie reminded me of previous animated works. Samurai Jack, The Emperor's New Groove, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and analytical geometry came to mind. The constant appearance of geometric shapes in the animation was also a strange but acceptable touch. Most of the human characters were oddly built, some with square bodies, others massively tall, and others with semi-circles as skulls. Just a unique look at animation, and one that puts Kells above the pile of generic "cartoon movies".

The music was beautiful and haunting and fit the scenery really well. The Celtic layers of the soundtrack, again, pulled at my heartstrings, and was a great companion to the animation and the story.

Final Thoughts
Although the Book of Kells is a religious text (presumed to be an "illustrated rendering of the Four Gospels of the Christian bible"), this movie brushes on themes of Irish myth, nature and Man, and the tale of innocence lost and innocence gained. The conquering barbarians have always been used in stories to represent "sin" and "cruelty", while at the same time, the film tends to view the Norsemen to be perhaps "ignorance" or "fear", in a societal age that wishes to transcend to Truth, tranquility and peace.

The theme of Nature is ever-present in this film, with the beauty of the forest and grassy plains accentuated with auras of light. The trippy scenes are also fun to watch, because they have the audience thinking "chaos" or the "unknown", further linking you to the trials of young Brendan.

It's interesting that this film came about on my radar around St. Patrick's Day. The Christians utilized old Irish myth (i.e. having St. Patrick meet a mythical Irish hero) to transition the people from their ancient Druid ways to the ways of monotheistic religion. This movie seems like one of those tales. Deep in meaning but easy to understand, The Secret of Kells is a guaranteed recommendation from Trehern, and I suggest you watch it the first chance you get.


Raylon Takins said...

Kids movie? Buhhhwhat?! Where are the guns? The slampieces? The winning?

Trehern's gone soft...good luck with that Barney cartoon, Looooozer. L8r. LOLZ on yer face.

Ben Pearson said...

Innocence lost AND gained? Innocence is gettin' arrrrouuuunnnndd in this movie.