out of Five
Running time: 75
Engaging, beautifully animated drama that plays like a children's storybook come to life, with a strong message, appealing characters and a distinctive visual style.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, The Secret of Kells is set in 9th century Ireland in the village of Kells, where young monk Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) has never been outside the heavily fortified village walls due to his overprotective uncle (Brendan Gleeson), the Abbott, who's obsessed with defending the village from marauding Viking hordes. When kindly Father Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives, bringing a mysterious legendary book, he inspires a spark of creativity in Brendan and soon persuades him to venture outside into the forest for the first time, ostensibly to collect materials to make ink.
Once outside the walls, Brendan meets a wolf-spirit-girl named Aisling (Christen Mooney), who introduces him to the wonders of the natural world. On his return to Kells, Brendan is ready to become an illustrator under Father Aidan, but the Abbot's much feared Viking hordes are looming ever closer...
The Oscar-nominated animation is utterly gorgeous throughout, as if the pages of a particularly beautiful children's book had sprung to life; this is, of course, reflected in the film's central theme about illuminating the world through creativity and illustration. The character designs are extremely well done, particularly the wisp-like Aisling and the group of Brendan's fellow monks, who are all different sizes but who move around as one.
The voice cast is superb – McGuire's Brendan makes an extremely appealing lead and there's strong support from Gleeson, Lally and Mooney. Special mention should also go to the non-speaking Pangur Ban (Aidan's cat), who pretty much steals the film.
If the film has a fault it's only that the Viking attack might prove a little too scary for younger viewers (the Vikings are only ever represented as evil-looking dark shadows with burning red eyes). Similarly, the ending seems rather abrupt and somehow unsatisfactory and anti-climactic, given the build-up to the Viking invasion, though it is at least in keeping with the message of the film.
The Secret of Kells is an enjoyable, emotionally engaging and beautifully animated adventure that's well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.