The Secret of Kells
This had better not be the secret the title hints at.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/02/2010 (USA), 03/03/2009 (Ireland)
Directors: Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey
Featuring the Voices of: Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Liam Hourican, Paul Tylack, Paul Young, Michael McGrath

Battling this month’s convention of Vikings as kind-hearted dragon lovers a la “How to Train Your Dragon“, “The Secret of Kells” instead pits merciless, gold-loving Vikings against defenseless Irish denizens seeking refuge within the walls of the titular town.

The Abbot in charge (voiced wonderfully by Brendan Gleeson) is convinced that once he completes construction, the strength of the walls will keep out any invader. Not so sure, however, are other members of the monastic order who believe that completing a sacred book will lead to their salvation.

At the heart of the book’s creation are Aidan, a displaced illuminator (as these scribes are called), and Brendan, the Abbot’s nephew. The pair work to complete the book and hope to do so before the invaders arrive. The magical/fantastical aspect of the film comes from the nephew’s forays into the forest surrounding Kells – a region under the protective care of a girl names Aisling. Of course, this being a mythic tale, she’s also capable of turning into a white wolf, commanding the creatures in the forest, and aiding Brendan in his quest to find the materials necessary to finish the book.

Where the production excels is in these forest interactions, which combine the film’s fresh art style with charming inventiveness and imagination. In many ways, the story plays out like a child’s heroic day dream – as Brendan comes into his own and gathers the wisdom and courage to fight against the tyranny of oppression.

Not up on my Celtic lore, I’m sure there are many allusions to certain tales that would have helped ground the film but having a willingness to suspend disbelief and the mentality of a child, I had little trouble sinking into the world being presented.

What I did enjoy very much was the previously alluded to art style, which was quasi-two dimensional but with a fresh way of creating depth and perspective. It reminded me of the 2006 animated film “Azur and Asmar”, only bathed in the gorgeous greens of Ireland rather than set in North Africa. And while many scenes highlight simplicity, others bring about detailed, almost fractal elements that were mesmerizing on-screen.

Despite its beautiful animation style, however, “The Secret of Kells” suffers from a severe lack of pace and is not one I’d recommend to children more accustomed to the general CGI fare being pushed these days. A 3 out of 5, it’s refreshing to see a change in the genre perhaps more geared towards adults but its slow feel might not jibe with every audience’s sensibilities.