‘Secret of Kells’ is the most beautiful lecture you’ll ever see

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 13, 2010 1:59pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

One of the dangers of the best animated feature category at the Oscars is that the slots usually go to the big, established players in the game: Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks.

But those quirky animated voters (I actually don’t know how animated they are, but you know what I mean) can throw curve balls, including this year’s roster, which included a completely unheralded movie called “The Secret of Kells” in amongst “Up” and “The Princess and the Frog.”

“The Secret of Kells” hadn’t even played in the U.S. yet, which only added to the curiosity factor. Now here it is, and it’s easy to see why voters would be impressed.

This smallish Irish offering gives us a children’s-book version of the creation of the Book of Kells, the marvelous medieval illustrated work that resides at Trinity College in Dublin.

In the movie’s story, the town of Kells is about to be besieged by marauding Vikings, and the Abott (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) has ordered the building of a huge wall around the town.

Monks of a more peace-minded attitude are devoting their time to illustrations. Our hero, a plucky ginger-haired lad named Brendan (Evan McGuire), becomes fascinated by the colorful illustrating talents of Brother Aiden (Mick Lally), a worldlier priest who believes in the power of art.

As though to balance out the story’s tilt toward the Christian faith, there’s also an Irish wood-fairy named Aisling, who leads Brendan into the natural world — a much more pagan place, where Brendan can find the berries and leaves that will become the inks for the book.

Since the movie is about a beautifully drawn book, it will come as no surprise that “The Secret of Kells” aims for a detailed visual style, bursting with color and design. This turns out to be its biggest strength, as directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey fill each screen with elaborate images — which, like the Book of Kells, are rendered as flat and painted.

I liked looking at the movie, but I will say that you’ll need to be an animation buff to really swoon over it. While the story offers an engaging young hero, a mischievous cat and some danger in the form of Vikings and scary wolves, it isn’t real grabby as a piece of suspense.

I could never quite escape the sense that I was being lectured, however gently, about war and peace and art and a bunch of other things that would be good for me to know about. Those are well-intentioned goals, but a bit dry in the telling.

Unless you just lose yourself in the fanciful visual parade. Which is an approach I wholeheartedly recommend.

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