The Secret of Kells is an animated film made in 2009 that draws its inspiration from the Book of Kells, a celebrated 9th-century illuminated holy book. The art style mixes the iconic characters and intricately detailed backgrounds from Celtic tradition, and it’s a welcome change from the glut of computer animated films. However, when you look passed the flashy veneer you’re left with a much less polished story.
Brendan is a young boy living in the fortified city of Kells under the watchful eye of his uncle, the Abbot. Although Brendan wants to apprentice with the older scribes, his uncle has little patience for books. The Abbot is building up the city’s defences against an imminent attack from the invading Viking hordes. When a famous illuminator arrives in the city with the incomplete book of Kells, Brendan breaks his uncle’s rules and leaves the city to collect the requirements for inking its pages.
Inside the forest he befriends the fairy Aisling, who can transform into a wolf. Unfortunately the cultural divide between Aisling (a creature of pagan mythology) and Brendan (a devout Christian) is totally ignored and therefore wasted. Brendan tells no one of Aisling or her incredible powers which defy his community’s religious beliefs. The scenes in the forest are easily the most interesting and visually exciting in the film, but they’re few and far between. Another problem is the depiction of the Vikings, which are dehumanized monsters. This was certainly the popular perception of them for centuries, but a more even-handed approach would have been appreciated.
In the end, The Secret of Kells is a disappointing film that builds to an anti-climactic ending. The purported magical qualities of the Book of Kells never materialize, leaving the viewer to conclude that the forgotten pagan mythology is more powerful. One can’t help but feel that its story was entirely misplaced, and should have been centered around Celtic mythology. The few scenes which do involve Aisling and mythical monsters are the highlight of an otherwise dreary and slow moving plot that could have used some fine-tuning.
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