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Apprenticed to illuminators,
Ancient Christian illustrators,
Brendan is a boy within a monastery’s walls.
His uncle Cellach is the abbot,
Who obsesses in his habit,
Building up the wall around before their culture falls.
For Vikings threaten day by day,
Not caring what they crush or slay.
A refugee who’s fled from them is Aidan of Iona.
Young Brendan’s heard of Aidan’s skill,
Drawing wonders from his quill.
Brendan is excited by this new and fresh persona.
When Aidan shows the boy the Book,
On which the sinners dare not look,
Brendan wants to aid completion of this awesome text.
He sneaks into the outer woods,
To get for Aidan needed goods,
Berries used for making ink, though Uncle will be vexed.
With Aidan’s feline Pangur Ban,
Brendan quickly comes upon
Wolves, that stop their hunting when a white-haired girl appears.
This Aisling treats him with suspicion;
Nonetheless, she aids his mission,
Showing him the forest’s wonders and its deadly fears.
While Aidan’s glad to have the ink,
He’s lost the Eye, a precious link
To sages past, a crystal that improves an artist’s sight.
When Brendan’s locked inside the tower,
Aisling frees him with her power.
Brendan finds Crom Cruach’s cave and takes its Eye that night.
The pagan god consumes his tail
And Brendan draws for him a jail.
The Eye of Crom helps Brendan to begin the Book’s next part.
Though Cellach isn’t pleased at all,
Many just ignore the wall
To watch as Brendan practices illuminating art.
But soon the Viking hordes attack,
And Cellach’s wall can’t hold them back.
The abbot’s wounded as the Northmen raze the town of Kells.
Escaping from the cruel combat,
Brendan, Aidan, and the cat
Take the Book from Viking hands, which Aisling’s pack repels.
The three depart the ravaged land,
And Brendan wields his steady hand,
Illuminating every page as many years take flight.
When Brother Aidan’s laid to rest,
And Cellach’s tired and depressed,
Brendan comes to show the Book that turns the dark to light.

The Secret of Kells is an Oscar-nominated, independent, mainly Irish animated film that is highly unique in its animation, drawing from ancient Celtic art and scriptural illuminations. To be honest, the animation takes some getting used to. I didn’t care for it at first, but, within 20 minutes or so, I grew accustomed to it and could better appreciate its detailed beauty. My VC tends to dislike most non-Disney/Dreamworks animations, like this one, viewing them as inferior and often too symbolic, but I don’t think it’s inferior at all, just different. In certain brief scenes that are given a moment of stillness, the hand-drawn animation looks like an ancient work of art.

As far as the story, there’s the oft-used cliché of the overly stern authority figure squelching the young protagonist’s imagination and eventually realizing his mistake (seriously, too many animated movies include this in their plots). Yet the story as a whole is quite fascinating with its fusion of beings from Celtic paganism and the religious monks who kept knowledge alive through the Dark Ages. While some of the references don’t make sense to a casual viewer, the filmmakers’ use of historical tidbits is actually quite clever (Crom Cruach was an ancient god worshiped with human sacrifice and ousted by St. Patrick; an Aisling is a type of poem involving a Faerie encounter; Pangur Ban was a white cat to which an unknown 9th century monk dedicated a poem in the margin of his manuscript).

As with Rise of the Guardians, however, The Secret of Kells seems to be avoiding any mention of God or the actual contents of the Book of Kells, the Gospels. There are some welcome scenes of generic prayer and talk of how strong the monks’ faith is, but these religious aspects have little substance. The latter half is also surprisingly dark, killing off nearly every minor character (offscreen), and the last scenes are touching, but not quite as grand and epically bittersweet as it tries to be. Overall, it’s certainly a film worth watching, one that uniquely presents the monks whose work helped to preserve light in darkness.

Best line: (Brendan) “You can’t find out everything from books, you know.”  (Brother Aidan) “I think I read that once.”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 4
Entertainment: 5
Visual Effects: 7
Originality: 5
Watchability: 4
Other (animation takes getting used to): -2
TOTAL: 30 out of 60

Tomorrow: #313: War of the Worlds (2005)

© 2014 S. G. Liput