The Secret of Kells

  • Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey
  • January 30, 2009 (Gérardmer Film Festival) / February 11, 2009 (France/Belgium) / March 3, 2009 (Ireland)

Voice Cast

  • Brendan-Evan McGuire
  • Adult Brendan-Michael McGrath
  • Abbot Cellach-Brendan Gleeson
  • Aisling-Christen Mooney
  • Brother Aidan-Mick Lally
  • Brother Tang, Brother Leonardo-Liam Hourican
  • Brother Assoua-Paul Tylak
  • Brother Square-Paul Young

A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under threat of raids helps a master illuminator work on the famed Book of Kells.

The Secret of Kells is the type of movie Disney will not do. It is not goofy or silly despite being aimed more towards children than adults. The characters have depth and complexity. They are distinct enough that each is their own person and you can pick them out from your memory with no effort. There are no bouncy songs or talking animal sidekicks. Heck, this can be downright dark.

To begin with there is the overarching fear of the Northmen. It’s a frightening world and the young Brendan, our central figure, is being protected from it as much as he can by his uncle (though I was left with the impression he could easily be his brother) Abbot Cellach. Brendan though doesn’t quite get that at the time. Abbot Cellach is painted at first as a hard and perhaps even cruel individual but as the story goes on you learn he’s not quite that mean. It’s more of a paternal thing than it is anything.

This is very much told from Brendan’s visual point of view. I couldn’t help but note how big and scary the Northmen were when they finally showed up. They were portrayed more like monsters than they were individuals. You could see how a frightened child would see them as less than human. This has scary visuals but is also just generally a beautiful film that has a style you don’t normally see in animation. The closest approximation I can think of is Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. The visual similarities are unmistakable and I am not sure if they are ultimately connected in some way.

At heart Brendan is a scholar much like his uncle was at one point before he became fearful of the attack that he knows is coming. He has dreams of learning and of crafting a great book of knowledge. Brendan’s thirst for knowledge and by extension sense of rebellion is spurred by the arrival of the near legendary Brother Aidan who is an illuminator that appears at the monastery after his home was overrun. He’s a playful old man with a twinkle in his eye that imparts Brendan with knowledge and experience that he otherwise could not or would not get from his uncle.

During the course of the story, Brendan must recover a special crystal which helps Aidan in his work. It’s nothing magical but rather allows him to see finer detail and create more realistic drawings in the books. That doesn’t negate that Brendan must go and steal it from somebody magical. That individual is the fearful fearsome Crom Cruach and Brendan is aided in this task by forest fairy Aisling. That bit felt like something of a side quest. Entertaining but not entirely necessary to the main narrative.

Ultimately Brendan and Cellach come to an understanding and that’s probably the most important thing. Often movies are rather simplistic with one character being clearly wrong and one character being clearly right. What we get here is that both understand where the other was coming from and that what was being done was not necessarily misbehavior or unnecessary protection.

These are human beings we get. They have depth and feelings and fears. They aren’t punchlines or two-dimensional caricatures. This is a well done and mature script in a film for kids. They treat the audience as intelligent. When was the last time we got that? How often does that occur anymore? Not often enough.

The Secret of Kells is distinctly Irish. It doesn’t water down what it is in any way but rather embraces the culture in which it occurs. From the voice cast to the visuals to even the history upon which it is based there’s just no attempt to make it more accessible to broader audiences. That is both a good and a bad thing as it not shying away from creating a distinct world and embracing a specific culture caused it to be ignored. The general public unfortunately is less adventurous than it should be.

The music is absolutely beautiful. You are transported to 9th Century Ireland. It immerses you in that land and time. It is a soundtrack as beautiful as the movie itself. This is around 75 minutes but it just packed so much into those 75 minutes. There is almost no filler or fluff other than the crystal excursion. The dialogue is great drama. And humor is minimal and not exceedingly hard.

I watched this in the early morning before my eight-year-old went to school. She has the attention span of a cat with a laser pointer. She was hooked on this and it wasn’t a Disney movie. It wasn’t CGI. In other words, not only is this for kids but will entertain kids.

The Secret of Kells is a great dramatic child-oriented film. The animation is beautiful and the story is engaging from start to finish. And most importantly the finale packs an emotional punch. If you haven’t seen this yet you should.

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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