THE SECRET OF KELLS
While most animated films are centred around talking animals or insufferably cute happenings, The Secret of Kells stands out by its very title alone. This is taken from The Book of Kells, which is the most famous of all illuminated manuscripts it consists of the text of the four Gospels in Latin where the lettering and frame of the page has been elaborately illustrated and lettered. The exact date the Book of Kells was made is not known it was created somewhere in the 9th Century by Celtic monks, it being so named after the Abbey of Kells in Ireland (not far from Dublin) where most of it was believed completed (after being started at the Abbey of Iona) and where it remained until the 16th Century.
Almost immediately, taking an historical subject and creating an authentic historically based setting, even casting the accents with authentic Irish voices, makes The Secret of Kells into a very different work than almost any other animated film out there. Few kids, for instance, are likely to pick up on namedrops of the various abbeys of the era or reference to Crom Cruach, a human sacrificial deity of pre-Christian Ireland. Disappointingly, the way the film has been made, it seems by its nature destined to be one that plays film festivals as opposed to being a multiplex hit.
Visually, the film is patterned after the illustrations in the Book of Kells. This lends to a unique form of stylised representation where characters are seen largely two-dimensionally, like something out of Michel Ocelots Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), and have flattened out, blank features, not unakin to some demented artistic collision between Byzantine icon paintings and the characters in tvs South Park (1997 ). While the animation gives the appearance of being limited, what you have to commend the film for is its enormous degree of visual invention and the highly complex things happening within it. There are some exquisite watercolour landscapes and backgrounds. The frames are often designed like panels for illuminated manuscripts or break into split-screen panes. The backgrounds are frequently an amazing array of patterns and tessellations, like some kind of avant garde or psychedelic wallpaper taking over the frame. One of the loveliest scenes is where Aisling and the cat contrive to steal back the key and free Brendan, a scene that passes through some beautifully drawn backdrops while accompanied by a haunting childs voice singing on the soundtrack. The film reaches its artistic heights during the confrontation with Crom Cruac, which is designed as a patterned two-dimensional snake that moves at right angles and where Brendan manages to trap it by winding it into a self-enclosed square.
The story that supports the film is on the slim side, more often being there to support the visuals. The Book exists more to borrow the unique visuals from than necessarily tell a story about its creation the journey into the forest for the berries and the crystal eye are mostly there to drive the plot. We are never given any explanation, for instance, as to why the abbot so obsessively and harshly wants to keep Brendan away from the outside world. The film does have a fair message about following the path of creativity and standing up against the voice of authority, control and safety often at personal cost and risk.
Director Tomm Moore next went onto make Song of the Sea (2014), another beautifully animated work set around Celtic mythology and the On Love segment of Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet (2014).