The Secret of Kells
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Destination: Ireland, The Dark Ages

Bird songs, lilac-scented air, and the echoes of childrenís voices outside--itís spring. So today, Iím sharing a sweet indie film for people of all ages who love springtime in the forest, and its promise of magic, if youíll only venture a little deeper into its secretsÖ.

Itís the Dark Ages in Ireland, and Abbot Cellach of the Kells Abbey is fortifying its walls in preparation for a Viking attack. The warrior invaders have already burned the Abbey at Iona Island, the former home of the master illuminator monk, Brother Aiden. When he finally arrives at the Abbey, he brings with him the sacred Book which he must finish illuminating with Celtic art, to preserve for the Irish people forever.

Brendan, the Abbotís nephew, has been ordered by his uncle to help fortify the Abbey walls, but his real love is working in the scriptorium. Brother Aiden, whose eyesight is failing, quietly apprentices Brendan to help complete the Book, and sends the boy into the forest to obtain seeds to make a magical green ink. Brendan has never been allowed outside the Abbey walls, so he has to sneak away with Aidenís cat in tow. In the forest, he finds a world of beauty heís never dreamed of, and befriends the forest fairy Aisling to guide and protect him, as he faces his own fears and the powers that would stop his sacred mission.

Although The Secret of Kells is an animated childrenís story, itís also a delightful tale for anyone who can appreciate Irish culture, mythology, and Celtic art. The story is based in fact: the Abbeys, the Book of Kells, and its repeated relocation during the invasions are all true. The Book is now housed in Dublin, one of Irelandís most revered national treasures.

The characters in Kells are sure to capture a young childís heart: a determined boy with a quest; a shape-shifting fairy; a resourceful cat; two grandfatherly monks (one protector, one mentor); and an assortment of doting brother-monks. Adults will recognize symbols, historical references, and cross-cultural quest myths depicted cleverly here.

But itís the animation that takes the prize. Itís all hand-drawn, and the detail is stunning, with Celtic knots and ornamental patterns carefully integrated into the background of every scene, becoming parts of maps or flowers, or even robes. Color and design are used selectively and brilliantly to tell the story, and the fairy-themed imagery is a pure pleasure to watch. Itís worth a second screening just to begin to appreciate the craftsmanship here.

Unlike the major animated releases that work so hard to push all of our emotional buttons with every character and scene, Kells is a simple, charming, yet deeply compelling story, where the ďembellishmentĒ is the Celtic art itself. The difference is a breath of fresh air, and it earns this film my highest recommendation.

The Secret of Kells was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, 2010.

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