Movie Review: The Secret of Kells

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Caroline Eddy, Staff Writer
March 28, 2012
Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Movies

I realize Saint Patrick’s Day was a few weeks ago now, but you’ll want to fake a rewind for this flick. While rolling through iTunes over spring holiday, a 99 cent deal for an animated kid’s movie caught my eye. The Secret of Kells was nominated back in 2010 for an Academy Award (for achievement in animation?) and, in this reviewer’s opinion, should’ve won. If you’re looking for a feast for the eyes and ears or you just are a fan of animation, definitely check this out.

The star of this masterpiece is Brendan, a 12 year old monk-in-training, voiced by Evan McGuire. He lives in the village of Kells with his uncle, Abbot Cellach (voice done by Brendan Gleeson), who is the Abbot of Kells. Haunted by the Viking attack that befell his home village, the Abbot is consumed with the construction of a wall to keep the “North men” out of Kells. Because of these fears, the Abbot, who is Brendan’s uncle and caretaker, orders the young boy to never leave the confines of the wall. With the arrival of the influential Brother Aiden of Iona (Mick Lally), Brendan is thrust into a world of change. He ventures into the forest for the first time, meeting and befriending Aisling (Christen Mooney), the forest’s fairy protector. The boy’s wildest dreams are proved to be reality as he ventures into the ancient world of pagan myth and the new future of Christianity, helping Brother Aiden to complete the legendary Book of Iona by confronting the unknown natural world and ancient gods. It is a coming of age story that will not be forgotten.

I cannot describe to you how marvelous the animation is in The Secret of Kells. From the fluid flitting of Aisling in her forest home, to the rigid and fiery marching of Viking invaders and the ever-changing visions of Brendan’s imagination, it is a veritable feast for the eyes. Colours are vibrant and the array of scenery is varied, but also has consistency. The artists of this masterpiece took an unusual approach to the designs by making literally every aspect of the settings, people, and objects connected. Rocks blend into the side of hills, tree limbs bend to mesh with another’s, and citizens fill in a clump around the largest member.

I also have to applaud the creator’s care and detail with the characters, despite there being a whole host of them. Every single character has some level of development that appears absent, but is very down-played and natural. You come out actually knowing more about the characters than you ever seemed to gather, which took some talented hands, no doubt. Each character is realistic and engaging, holding your undivided attention even as you marvel at the rest. I have a feeling that the filmmakers may have developed a parent-child relationship with the characters. That’s how good it is, if you get my drift.

The voice work is immaculately done and tells a lot about the character; the comforting Irish voices, as well as many other accents from a clamor of international monks residing in Kells, are rich in tone and wrought with emotion. You don’t need to even watch the movie to understand the terror Abbot has for the North Men or the disappointment and sadness Brother Aiden experiences when he retells the tragic end to his island home, Iona.

Now, if you love excellent, classic and stunningly orchestrated traditional Irish music, I suggest you log on to your nearest music outlet and take a listen to this soundtrack. The music is simply worth drooling over; I’m completely serious when I say that. Bruno Coulais is the main music-man, weaving entire scenes in his misty flute-work, bouncy fiddle and warm drum beats. Working with modern Irish musician, Kila, they crafted a musical piece that is, personally, unrivaled. I respect the filmmakers for recognizing this tapestry of genius and using it to its absolute full potential. The soundtrack has the rare and gorgeous quality that can make you quake with fear, smile for all the world, and ball hysterically all on its own. My favorite tracks are The Book of Kells, Cardinal Knowledge, and Aisling Song for the utilization of many traditional instruments in ways that create new, and sometimes unearthly, music.

It is unusual for someone like me to say that an animated movie is their favorite movie, but it certainly is. Every pixel of this fairy’s tale is alive and almost pops from the screen. It all just works. That Academy Award, I believe, is well earned in spirit for something this beautiful and different. It is not your average kids’ movie, no singing except for Aisling Song which is a tune nearly entirely in Gaelic. In fact, there are some instances where it gets pretty intense for kids; my 11 year old sister had to ask me a few times if it had a happy ending.

An unusually happy ending for an unusually amazing movie; The Secret of Kells shows suffering and beauty can be found in the most fragile of places, and a simple book can turn darkness into light.

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