Wednesday, March 10, 2010

(Brendan and) The Secret of Kells

I was fortunate enough to catch this before the Oscars this past weekend, and while I don't think it was the strongest film of the Animation nominees, it's nonetheless a staggeringly beautiful myth of a movie. Click on all the images below to see them bigger; there's a lot of detail that rewards a closer look.

The Secret of Kells

The story revolves around Brendan, who lives in a little village called Kells with his guardian uncle, Abbot Cellach (voiced by Mad-Eye himself, Brendan Gleeson). The Abbot is consumed with a project of building a wall around Kells, in order to protect it from attack by the approaching barbarians. He forbids Brendan from straying on the other side of the wall, but Brendan is as restless as any other boy his age. He spends a lot of time with the scribes and becomes obsessed with illumination - an intricate process of drawing which was used to create the wondrous Book of Iona, a book prophecies were made about which was largely made by the work of Father Aidan. Father Aidan seeks refuge in Kells from the barbarians, who are moving ever closer, and Brendan befriends him and becomes his apprentice.

On a mission to find special berries to make ink for the Book, Brendan ventures outside the wall into the forest and is nearly killed by wolves. He is saved, however, by a faerie named Aisling (which may sound to an American ear more like "Ashley"), who can also transform into a white wolf (zomg stolen from twilight!). Aisling befriends Brendan and guides him through the forest (which she calls *her* forest), and she helps him find the berries he needs to bring back to Father Aidan. Over the course of the film, Brendan must face many fears, from fear of his uncle's disapproval and punishment to more mythical fears such as monsters.

This is very much a hero's tale, with a real sense of fear - Brendan must face his fears in order to accomplish his fated task and finish the Book. There is even a quite striking "belly of the beast" sequence that features some of the most spellbinding animation and drawing that you've ever seen. Seriously, just wow.

My favorite sequence, though, is the one embedded below. Brendan has been locked in his room for disobedience, but he desperately needs to make another trip into the forest to get an essential item for illuminating. The key hangs above where Brendan's uncle is sleeping, and Aisling goes with the cat Pangur to get it.

This is a real gem of a movie, and if you get a chance (I'm not sure how widely it will be released in theaters, but it should be at least on DVD soon), I highly recommend it. It's a storybook come to life, and it tells its tale in a way no other medium but animation can.

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