The Secret of Kells (2009)

A Saint Patty’s Days tribute:Here is a movie I made no claim to knowing anything about before I sat down to it. I had no basis for observation except that of a critical movie viewer, watching for substance and meaning as well as entertainment. This is reviewed solely from the eyes of a man who enjoys ‘Cowboy Bebop’, loved ‘The Princess and The Frog’, and regularly enjoys an animated film such as ‘Up’, ‘The Incredibles’, and a pretty selective taste in anime. I regularly take in these jewels vicariously through the eyes of my daughter, whom I have been steadily introducing to more and more feature-length animation.

Watching the Oscars, the standard fare of animated movies I had seen throughout the year were nominated and shown.

But then, there in the mix, was a pair of two eyes through brush. Those eyes were the first mystery to me. I jotted the title down, and anticipated a chance to catch the movie. I purposefully do everything I can to avoid reviews of these movies, which is really counter to the trade I have here. I wanted to see how an otherwise unknown Oscar-nominated animated film fared against the titles I already knew.
I was pleasantly surprised at what I got.

The Secret of Kells’ is based on The Book of Kells, a Christian relic of the 9th century that was created by monks at Kells Abbey. This setting is the background for the story unfolding in the movie.

The story follows a little boy, Brendan, and the discovery of his love of “illumination.” The backdrop of the threat of Viking attack puts his reasonably overprotective uncle (voiced by Brendan Gleeson, one of my favorite actors) on edge. He is leading the charge to fortify the abbey the monks live in. While doing so, a master illuminator from another abbey arrives on the Kells doorstep. And so begins our little hero’s quest of discovery.

There is a small quest, which will soon reveal the owner of those aforementioned eyes. There are Vikings, wolves, a snake god, and moments of visceral honesty all wrapped up in this surprise animated classic. The animation is sharp; different and initially perplexing to look at. Once used to the style, it really became quite beautiful, interesting; different. I initially watched this with abandon, no understanding of the history behind the story. I’ll admit to having no context to judge the movie on. However, after researching the back history, I found the movie to be very true to source, and give light to the sequence of events, making this more myth than story. It’s a fantastic little film, and a worthy contender against all the big studio productions. I’m a better person for seeing it. If you care to learn the history behind the story, you will be, too.

A. A colorful, enlightening story behind a piece of Christian history. Honest and interesting, beautiful and moving, this gem is worth a watch if you have the cultural background to understand it.

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