The Secret of Kells

Film, Family and kids
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars
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.

By: Cath Clarke



Release details

Release date:
Friday October 1 2010
79 mins

Cast and crew

Tomm Moore, Nora Tworney
Evan McGuire
Brendan Gleeson
Christen Mooney
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