The mostly hand-drawn animation takes its cues from medieval art: gloriously ornate and antique, with spiralling curlicues, Celtic symbols – and all very flat. The Vikings are terrifying, not men at all but abstract, headstone-like demons. Fleeing these ‘north men’, master illuminator Brother Aidan arrives at the monastery, carrying the book. Flowing white hair, long robes, a glint in the eye: Aidan has the patter of a saintly bookie. Like all grown-ups he has huge hands and fingers, and there is a lovely message about craft and discovering the wonder of art and nature.
Aidan takes Brendan under his wing, sending him into a forest where he meets Aisling, a fairy-like wolf girl. Carpeted with bluebells, the forest is a joy, full of fat little birds and teeming with butterflies and owls. The animators show the change of seasons: blackened snow in winter, russet leaves fluttering in autumn. That must have added a huge burden to already painstaking work, and shows what a labour of love this film surely was for director Tomm Moore. The story is a bit tangled, and there is too much of it packed into nearly 80 minutes, but little kids won’t be bothered when the animation is so magical. Older ones may get restless.