The most striking thing about the animated film The Secret of Kells is that in its short 75-minute runtime, it manages to cram in more sophistication than we get in most live-action pieces. It’s rare to find modern animation that doesn’t play to the punchline and dares its audiences to not only feel a real emotion, but to examine their own moral compass as well. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule (most of the films of Pixar are great examples of this) but they are few and far between.
The story starts out simple enough: A young boy named Brendan lives in an Abbey in the city of Kells with his Uncle who has become increasingly pre-occupied with erecting a wall to shield the settlement from attack by approaching Vikings. The monks in the town of Kells have set themselves to task of writing down ancient scriptures into Holy books. Not long into the film, a monk named Aiden arrives with an unfinished ancient book that needs Illustrating. As young Brendan becomes more intrigued by the work that’s being done by the monks, he finds himself at odds with his Uncle and the power play between might and ideas is on. After being forbidden to leave the safety of the walls, Brendan finds himself on a dangerous quest in a dark forest full of mystical creatures and everyday dangers. I won’t reveal these here for fear of spoiling some of the films surprises, but it’s safe to say that the forest is filled with an overwhelming sense of impending doom (yet, as frightening as it is – the walled city still felt worse).
The film succeeds on so many levels, mainly because the characters are not typical. After all, who can blame a child for wanting to experience knowledge? In counterpoint, who can blame an Uncle for wanting to protect his home and family? The film has a line in it that seems to sum it up best: You can’t learn everything from books. However, it also swings back the other direction and suggests that might alone is not nearly enough protection from the challenges that man faces. Pretty heady stuff for a cartoon, huh?
The 2-D animation is wonderfully drawn and so stylized with heavy geometric shapes, that the viewer is always looking at something beautiful. In this era where we are so accustomed to our animated characters looking as real as they possibly can, it’s refreshing to actually be terrified by a wolf with an almost triangle-shaped head and glowing red eyes.
There are a few red flags for parents – the animation is a little scary and there is some content in the movie that would absolutely terrify younger viewers. I would recommend viewing for this film to be around the 8 year-old range. Not only would they be able to handle the material, but they might have some questions after. This is an excellent film for parents and children to watch together. It’s very literary-friendly and pushes the need for reading. All in all, I was blown away by this little film and I hope it has staying power. After all, it was nominated last year for an Oscar.
Currently it’s out on DVD and Netflix viewers can view it on Instant View.