The Secret of Kells

  • Film
  • Family and kids
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Images leap non-stop out of this wonderful Irish animation, which picked up a surprise Oscar nomination this year. It imagines the making of Ireland’s national treasure, ‘The Book of Kells’ – a medieval manuscript illustrating the four Gospels. If that sounds monastic and staid, the film is anything but. It mines Celtic folklore and fairy tale as much as history and begins with a goose-chase, literally. Twelve-year-old Brandon dashes after the querulous bird to pluck a few feathers for quills. His uncle, the abbot (voiced by Brendan Gleeson), is building a wall around the monastery as sanctuary from the Vikings, but Brandon would rather be in the scriptorium where a jolly gang of monks are illustrating scripts.

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.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday October 1 2010
Duration: 79 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Tworney
Cast: Evan McGuire
Brendan Gleeson
Christen Mooney

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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1 person listening

This movie is a gem, very powerful on two levels. Firstly, the drawings are simply amazing and only the beauty of the animation would make the movie worth seeing. Secondly, the story - although sometimes a bit erratic - about conquering one's own fears for a higher purpose is very edifying ans courageous. Highly recommended, it might be a bit scary for the very young. I would say 7+ The music is very beautiful too.