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The Secret of Kells
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Magic, fantasy, and Celtic mythology come together in a riot of color and detail that dazzle the eyes in a sweeping story about the power of imagination and faith to carry humanity through dark times.
In a remote medieval outpost of Ireland, young Brendan embarks on a new life of adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from foreign lands carrying a book brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide. It is here that he meets the falry Aisling, a mysterious young wolf-girl, who helps him along the way. But with the barbarians closing in, will Brendans determination and artistic vision illuminate the darkness and show that enlightenment is the best fortification against evil?
In contrast to big-budget Hollywood CG features, The Secret of Kells is a welcome reminder of how warm, personal, and compelling traditional drawn animation can be. The story takes place in the eighth century, a perilous time when Viking raiders threatened to destroy Irish civilization. Since his parents were killed by Vikings, 12-year-old Brendan (voice by Evan McGuire) has lived within the walled monastery of Kells under the stern eye of his uncle, Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). But his life changes when Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives at Kells with a wondrously beautiful but unfinished illuminated manuscript, created to be "a beacon in these dark times." Brendan realizes he wants to become an illuminator and complete the book, despite his uncle's opposition. His decision helps him win the friendship of Aisling (Christen Mooney), a silver-haired wood fairy--and requires him to battle the monstrous pagan god Crom Cruach. The visuals in The Secret of Kells were inspired by the eighth-century manuscript the Book of Kells, which has been preserved in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Fans of Samurai Jack will recognize another influence on the flat, angular figures and their stylized movements. Brendan's adventures are exciting enough to keep children entertained, while its graphic beauties will delight adult viewers. The Secret of Kells surprised many observers when it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and it's a film no one interested in animation should miss. (Unrated: suitable for ages 8 and older: some scary imagery and violence.) --Charles Solomon
Stills from The Secret of Kells (Click for larger image)
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Now, there have been some complaints that it tones down the specifically Christian aspect of the Book of Kells & that it's not historically accurate. I submit that this well-meant argument is really beside the point. While the film uses history as a starting point, this is poetry & art, not hard fact -- the point is metaphor & even allegory, depicting an eternal human struggle between destructive, devouring greed that sees only materialism & power as human needs, and the higher aspirations of humanity, which strives for civilization, beauty, art & meaning. So the Viking invaders are a faceless, dark menace, almost an embodiment of our own darker selves; while both the monks & the survivals of the Fair Folk are the guardians & caretakers of our better selves. In this context, the film is absolutely contemporary!
This is made even more clear by our young protagonist Brendan's encounter with Crom Cruach, as the young monk-to-be descends into the Underworld to confront an ancient, grim, cruel & hungry god of darkness -- in a Jungian sense, confronting the Shadow. And his relationship with the otherworldly Aisling can be seen as his connection with the Anima, his own soul in the guise of a magical female counterpart, linking male & female, pagan & Christian. While Brendan is no stranger to fear, loss & grief, it's obvious that he'll become more of a whole human being over the years than many of us ever manage ourselves.
Still, I don't want to make this sound too weighty or burdened with overt, heavy-handed symbolism. Above all, the film is truly magical, shimmering with a sense of wonder & possibility that transcends the mundane world without ever denying its often overwhelming power & presence. It's a visual delight & has genuine emotional impact. For those of us who aspire to more than the lowest common denominator offered by modern consumer culture, it's a reminder that the things of real value are to be found within ourselves & have no price tag attached. Most highly recommended!
And, if you don't have kids you might still really enjoy this movie. The animation really is unique. The story line is unique. The music is calm and peaceful. Except for some intense parts (invaders, the creepy mysterious darkness, assumed death) its a very mellow movie.
I can only imagine someone giving this masterpiece one star being like the Northmen themselves who blindly gazed upon the beauty of the Book and found it worthless.
And yes, as some have pointed out, this may not be a film for young kids. But just because something is animated doesn't mean that it's intended audience. In fact I think only a mature audience could appreciate what this movie is about.
This movie is touching, humorous, exciting, and thought provoking. It's quite magnificent and a welcomed addition to my library.
Watch this film. It's a true work of art.