Movie Review: The Secret of Kells

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A young monk in the Irish town of Kells helps an old man write an important book in history, all with the help of a forest fairy.

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Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey, 2009

Brendan (Evan McGuire) is a child monk who lives in Kells under the guardianship of his uncle, Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). Forbidden ever to leave the village walls by the Abbott, Brendan is terrified of the possibility of attack by the Viking invaders that have terrorised nearby towns. When a jovial old monk named Aiden (Mick Lally) escapes one such attack and flees to Kells, he brings with him a remarkable, beautiful book that Brendan is fascinated by. Aiden challenges Brendan to expand his boundaries and sends the boy into the forest, where Brendan meets a fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney) who offers her assistance. Together the three of them fight the encroaching darkness from both human and supernatural sources.

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The Secret of Kells is a visually stunning movie. In fact, visually stunning doesn’t do it justice. Each frame is like a beautiful stained glass window, and it’s all brought to the screen with such dedication that the effort put in alone would be worth a few stars. The story is also delightful, gentle and delicate but still with some real darkness and emotional heft. Aisling is a firecracker of a character, daring and challenging to Brendan’s sheltered world view. She’s also particularly well animated, not obeying the laws of physics as she darts and floats around. The Abbott makes an interesting villain, one whose point of view and descent into dark obsession is easy to identify with. The story moves along at a brisk pace, but still allows you to revel in the visual feast it presents. The colours burst off the screen, and the lilting Celtic accents, music and tones are infused through the film’s aesthetic.

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One of the film’s many, many gorgeous shots.

The film holds important messages for children about the importance of preserving and passing on knowledge. While the density of the visuals might go over their heads, there’s also a lot of fun and great characters for them to connect with. It’s also a fun adventure movie with a sweet friendship at its heart, and a beautiful pet cat that the kids are sure to enjoy. The end of the movie is a little disappointing. It goes on long past the point when it seems like it would stop, and the last few scenes feel disjointed, as though they belong to another movie. The storytelling is inconsistent throughout, hitting beats at odd moments. Still, The Secret of Kells is a great hidden gem, and could become a favourite for many families if they put the effort into discovering it.

The Secret of Kells on IMDb

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