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Review – The Secret of Kells

Thanks to Annlee Ellingson, from Moving Pictures Magazine, for this review of The Secret of Kells:
A surprise Oscar nominee, “The Secret of Kells” is a 2-D, hand-drawn throwback amid its computer-generated, stop-motion and 3-D competitors, demonstrating the encouraging range of animation styles utilized in contemporary feature filmmaking. Although it’s unlikely that this gem from the producers of “The Triplets of Belleville” will overthrow the ultra high-tech “Up” on Oscar Sunday, that it’s even in the mix shows that story and artistry, no matter what tools are used, are the things.

At the heart of this story is Brendan (Evan McQuire), an orphaned boy living with his uncle Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), the abbot at the isolated and fortified Abbey of Kells. Drawn in rich reds with long, bold lines, Abbot Cellach is a strict and fearful man who has forbidden his nephew (soft browns and delicate strokes) from going beyond the confines of the wall he’s having built around the outpost to protect it from Viking marauders.

One day Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives, an unfinished manuscript under his arm, and invites Brendan to help him complete it. (Like his apprentice, Aidan is illustrated in soft grays and fragile lines.) To do so, though, Brendan must fetch berries from the woods to make emerald ink, and he ventures into the outside world for the first time. There he meets Aisling (Christen Mooney) — ghostly and wolf-like — a girl who makes her home in the forest filled with mythical creatures.

Against his uncle’s wishes, Brendan befriends Aisling and works with Aidan on the manuscript, and when the barbarians arrive, it becomes clear as to whether Cellach’s wall or Brendan’s book of hope and knowledge is the better fortification against the coming darkness.

Director Tomm Moore draws inspiration for his film’s design from the illuminated manuscript at the center the plot. A muted palette of ochre, orange and olive is accented by turquoise (when Brendan dreams) and punctuated by crimson (when the Vikings attack). Sweeping arches and tight curlicues feature prominently throughout amid symbols from Celtic myth and religious iconography. At times the characters move across frames designed like the pages of the manuscript itself — a cross between pre-Renaissance paintings and the storyboards of “Samurai Jack.”

Directed by: Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey
Written by: Fabrice Ziolkowski (screenplay), Tomm Moore (story)
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney

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