Film >Celtic pride
Take a look at any one of The Secret of Kellsí 75 minutes, and it becomes immediately apparent why this was a surprise nominee for Best Animated Feature at this yearís Academy Awards. Itís an undeniably gorgeous film, inspired by the ornate illustrations that adorn the real-life Book of Kells, a millennia-old rendition of the New Testament composed by Celtic monks and filled with exaggerated shapes and exuberant colors.
Take a look between the lines, though, and itís easy to see how directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey have taken some of the most unique pages in history and forced them into the unremarkable mold of every other heroic coming-of-age fantasy. Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) is fascinated by the book that Aidan (Mick Lally) has brought with him from the island of Iona, and as heís losing his sight in his old age, Aidan looks to Brendanís youthful enthusiasm to help him complete the manuscript.
Brendanís uncle, Abbot Cellach (an appropriately stern Brendan Gleeson), sees no use for illustrations when thereís a wall to be built around their abbey. If they hope to keep out the very same Vikings who already laid waste to Iona, then Brendan needs to stay within the barrier and away from the scriptorium. These in-structions donít prevent our scrappy lad from teaming up with a forest sprite (Christen Mooney, rarely speaking above a grating whisper) and a multicultural band of sidekick monks to help complete and protect the sacred text.
For every striking image (the Viking forces take on a faceless, angular form), weíre offered a pat demonstration of how magical the process of bringing the Gospel to life mustíve been; making ink out of berries resembles potions practice. Brendanís triumphant confrontations against chomp-happy beasts look cool, but these story beats marginalize the stakes, giving full focus to the secret book and leaving the deaths of countless innocents to play out in silhouette.
Yes, itís a family-friendly take on the tale, and a handsomely animated one at that, but moments like those do a better job of rendering pretty that material which should strike us as pretty profound.