‘The Secret of Kells’ was nominated for an Oscar for best animated picture this year, and it’s easy to see why. As big-budget, CG-animated films crowd the theaters, along comes a movie like this, which reminds us that hand-drawn animation can be very beautiful.
And it’s somehow reassuring that of the contenders in that Oscar category, two films were stop-motion (‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Coraline’), two were hand-drawn (‘Kells’ and ‘The Princess and the Frog’), and one was CG-animated (‘Up’).
I say this because it often seems like we’re headed down a path of no return with CG-animated family films, but this year’s Oscar race proves that’s not true. And even though ‘Up’ falls into the CG-animated category, it’s still a beautiful film with a great message.
‘The Secret of Kells’ begins in a remote medieval outpost of Ireland, where young Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) lives with his uncle Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), a monk who runs the Abbey of Kells. Abbott is focused on defending Kells from the looming threat of a Viking invasion, and he expects his brothers and nephew to take part.
But when a master illuminator named Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives in Kells with an unfinished manuscript full of secret wisdom and powers, Brendan disobeys his uncle to help Brother Aidan find the right ingredients for ink, and soon discovers that he himself has a talent for illumination.
Brendan ventures into an enchanted forest, and with the help of a beautiful wolf-girl/fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney), he faces an ancient serpent god to find a special crystal needed to finish the book.
‘The Secret of Kells’ is a story of light and dark, goodness and evil, and artistic vision that brings the Book of Kells lore to both children and adults. The animation has a magical, other-worldly quality that mirrors Celtic folk art, making the film not only an interesting story, but also a lesson in art history. Also, Aisling’s song, sung by Christen Mooney, is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in a children’s film.
Kids old enough to handle the cartoon violence will learn about Irish lore, illuminated manuscripts, and the power of faith and imagination to carry us through the dark times.
‘The Secret of Kells’ – Aisling’s Song:
‘The Secret of Kells’ Trailer:
Notes for Parents:
Sex/Nudity: Not an issue.
Violence/Gore. While the hand-drawn animation isn’t as realistic as live action or CG-animation, this film includes several scenes that might be scary for kids younger than nine. Barbarian invaders sweep through Irish towns, setting them on fire and terrorizing and killing people with their swords and axes. One character is shown near death after being speared. An evil pagan serpent god haunts the woods, and red-eyed snarling wolves also play into the story.
Profanity: Not an issue.
Drugs/Alcohol: Not an issue.
Which Kids Will Like It? Kids 8 and older who are interested in fantasy tales or Irish history.
Will Parents Like It? Some parents might be uncomfortable with the depiction of pagan themes and characters (a fairy and frightening creature in the woods). However, it’s a beautifully-animated tale of Irish lore, illuminated manuscripts, and determined heroes.