Nearly every frame of this 75-minute animated feature is packed with detail. Sure, it isn’t exactly anime, or an animated film I usually feature on the site, but The Secret of Kells a sensational piece of animation. The story begins with young Brendan, an orphan living with his uncle. He gets entangled with a secret book, and takes up the new visitor’s quest to find a precious ink that can only be derived from berries gathered from the forest outside the abbey walls.
Unfortunately the drama here is not as bold as the visuals, but it does have little lessons chopped up within the film. Brendan’s first trip outside the walls of Kells turns dangerous very quickly, and drops you in the middle of the frantic scenarios. What I thought was wonderful, and crucial to every animated film, was that the voice acting is terrific. It does a short running time and the film has a bit too much narrative for such a short film. Luckily, you don’t need much patience as it is a great story of discovery and mystery. There is a balance here of the simple and the ornate that works incredibly well.
Full of multi-panel shifts and swirling transition, this is an animated film unlike anything that is being made right now. You are so drawn to every detail of the story and to every stroke of the pencil & brush. Knowing now what the Book of Kells is and what it contains, the animation makes perfect sense. The magnificent art direction of this movie clearly derives from its historical visual source, but has also been cleverly adapted to the demands of animated storytelling. Interestingly the story has elements of both Ireland’s Christian and pagan heritage but the ending seems quite abrupt.
The Secret of Kells delivers on everything you’d want from an animated film. It is a fun little history lesson with a little adventure. After all, it is is directed completely at children, which believe it or not, is quite refreshing. Although I would have loved to have better closure for the characters and what exactly that creature in the cave was, the themes and music of this film create a work that is sublime. After all is said and done, I would say if you are tired of the 3-D fad, this is a refreshing take on a genre that needs a bit of CPR as of late. If you are a student of the fine arts, medieval calligraphy, early religion and so forth – have at it. For everyone else, you too, can enjoy this film at a more leisurely pace.