Short Takes: The Secret of Kells
By Chris Chang
(Tomm Moore, France/Belgium/Ireland, 2009)
Rare is the film that appeals to 4-year-olds and medieval-art historians; and brave are the visionaries who pitched the thing to studio suits in the first place; but, lo and behold, here we have it. Regardless of its special-interest-group fan-base, Brendan and the Secret of Kells has enough universal charm and eye-popping dazzle to merit the animated-feature Oscar nod it’s already received.
Brendan, a young novice ensconced behind the fortress-like walls of Kells, is excited by the unexpected arrival of master illuminator Brother Aidan, who comes bearing his unfinished masterwork, The Book of Iona. Conflict arises when Brendan decides to assist the brother, which entails venturing beyond the abbey walls although this is forbidden by his uncle, Brother Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). Cellach’s concerned about the impending advent of the bad-guy Vikings who wreak havoc across the land. But Brother Aidan needs special berries for a unique ink color, so Brendan defies his uncle, and heads off into the forest—which is of course inhabited by sprites and other assorted magical whatsits.
Kells has a decidedly pleasing-to-the-eye, retro-cartoon vibe. The visually fore-grounded characters (decidedly more Powerpuff than Pixar) float above and sometimes amid an elaborately developed Celtic-psychedelic background. The result is an intriguing and rare artistic subgenre—one that actually might be coming to a theater near you.