The Secret of Kells (2009)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.1/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

THE SECRET OF KELLS (2009) - Tomm Moore

"I have lived through many ages. Through the eyes of salmon, deer, and wolf. I have seen the Northmen invading Ireland, destroying all in search of gold. I have seen suffering in the darkness. Yet, I have seen beauty thrive in the most fragile of places. I have seen the book. The book that turned darkness into light."

As the opening lines were mystically whispered from the serene forest fairy, Aisling, a wave of quivering shivers went down my spine. In two minutes, I was already captivated yet chilled to the bone. Exquisite yet disturbing, the opening scene of The Secret of Kells gives the audience an aesthetically pleasing experience already. The rest of this fabulous work of art is just as refreshingly original and luscious to behold.

The Secret of Kells is an animated film on an $8 million budget. It began development in the year 1999, when director Tom Moore and his friends were inspired by Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler and well as Disney's Mulan, which both based their visual style on the respective traditional art of the countries they were set in. The Thief and the Cobbler was set in Persia while Mulan was set in China. Moore decided to make something similar with Irish art instead. After ten years, what the film creators ended up with is one of the most unique animated films of all time.

The Secret of Kells is set in the eighth century and gives a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells, a real illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin. Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) is obsessed with building a mighty wall to defend his Abbey of Kells from the invading Vikings. Driven by his determination, he expects his young nephew Brendan to follow in his footsteps. Brendan however works in the scriptorium of the monastery and later becomes the apprentice of the great Aidan of Iona, a master illuminator who is working on the Book of Iona. In helping Aidan finish the book, Brendan enters the forest, forbidden by his uncle, to look for gall nuts to make ink. It is here in the forest where our protagonist Brendan meets the forest spirit Aisling.

The animation is the source of such magnetism. It bears the traditional taste of Irish art, yet brings it to life in the third dimension. Despite the images appearing to be flat, they have "layers," in which we as audience members can clearly see plants and insects being closer to us than the characters. It is as enchanting as its content. We lived in the year 2009, where the animation industries have already made movies of animated realism like WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda. But here comes a small film that quietly stepped into the movie theaters. It comes in as a silent rebellion against all the formulaic noise we have been given for so many years.

The lead character is lovable and charming enough for us to follow. Despite the plot being less engaging than it should have been, the animation effortlessly holds our interest. Brendan Gleeson, a wonderful actor, voiced the Abbott with great precision. His voice holds fatherly guidance yet displays strictness and harshness in his rules. The softly plotted conflict between uncle and nephew is consistent throughout the piece, and in some ways, is the main conflict of the movie. Behind this illuminated narrative, we are still disquieted by the imminent invasion of the Northmen. As a beautiful finish, The Secret of Kells concludes in an unpredictable way and emphasizes on certain lessons like the retainment of knowledge, art, and spirit, perhaps the most valuable elements for any society.

The story is attractively simple. It combines a classic fairytale with a singularly unique aesthetic that exhibits Celtic mythology. Even though the audience might have trouble becoming wholeheartedly drawn into the narrative, the hand-drawn and watercolored animation is guaranteed to entice their attention. From an honest look, and simply put, there was not a lot going on in The Secret of Kells. It is more of a movie that invites the audience into the world that the characters live in. Instead of watching a journey of characters, The Secret of Kells is more of a tale of an enchanted wallpaper. The story execution might not be compelling enough, but the visual experience is unlike anything one will ever see. With themes on war and faith, and a correct amount of cuteness to it, The Secret of Kells deserved to be recognized by the Academy as "Best Animated Feature," and in some way, it deserves the award over WALL-E.

In conclusion, The Secret of Kells is phenomenal. Despite its slow-moving narrative, the animation provides an experience of a different dimension. It seduces our minds, heart, and soul. The film strives with lyricism and jewel-bright colors. With an intricate use of lines, The Secret of Kells is the sweetest eye candy ever to behold, breaking the stasis of its genre and embracing our hearts with exquisite creativity.


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