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The Book That Turned Darkness Into Light

November 7th, 2010 · No Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: Kilkenny, Ireland.

The Secret of Kells (2009)
Directed by Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Screenplay by Fabrice Ziolkowski, story by Tomm Moore
Produced by Didier Brunner, Viviane Vanfleteren, Paul Young
78 minutes

Sprouting from low budget animation and growing to beanstalk heights is The Secret of Kells. Director Tomm Moore, art director Ross Stewart and character designer Barry Reynolds began scribbling the film in 1999, while Moore attended Ballyfermot College in Dublin. Their concept was a feature that would draw from Celtic design they were seeing popularized in everything from advertising to tattoos. Upon researching the Book of Kells — an illustrated 8th century manuscript of the Four Gospels — Moore and his friend Paul Young founded a company: Cartoon Saloon. After six years, they landed financing through Didier Brunner and Viviane Vanfleteren, producers of The Triplets of Belleville. With a budget of roughly €6 million ($8 million USD), production began in 2005 under head of animation Nora Twomey and spread to 200 animators across France, Belgium, Brazil and Hungary.

Ignored in Western Europe upon its release in February 2009, The Secret of Kells became the first animated film to win the top audience prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival in July. With a storyline involving a young illustrator who struggles to complete a timeless work of art, word of mouth spread among animators, particularly in Hollywood. The result was a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature alongside Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and Up. The Secret of Kells picks from the cart that is Disney animation of the 1990s — cute animals and comedy — but the film boldly transcends formula by ignoring pop culture and dipping into the wells of mythology and imagination. Fanciful, refreshing and powerful, it conjures the feeling, if not the expanse, of The Hobbit. Bruno Coulais composed a musical score that makes vivid use of traditional Irish instrumentation.

Deep in the forests of Ireland during The Middle Ages, walls sturdy enough to repel an invasion by marauding Northmen are rushed to completion around the abbey of Kells. The young Brendan (Evan McGuire) is nephew of the taciturn Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), but far from being obsessed with defenses, the boy spends his time in the scriptorium with illuminators devoted to printing manuscripts. Seeking refuge at Kells is the illuminator Aidan of Iona (Mick Lally) who along with his white cat Panguar Ban fled his island abbey when Northmen destroyed it. Captivated by tales of the Book of Iona — whose magnificence is said to transform despair into hope among all those who gaze upon it — Brendan agrees to help Aidan by gathering oak berries that can produce the emerald green ink he needs to complete the book.

Venturing into the forest for the first time, Brendan is surrounded by ferocious wolves. Coming to his rescue is a white haired girl named Aisling (Christen Mooney), a mischievous spirit who takes a liking to Brendan. Wandering into a section of the forest he where he is not allowed, Brendan encounters Crom Cruach, a dark, sleeping spirit responsible for all the death and destruction Aisling has witnessed through the ages. Reprimanded by his uncle for leaving the abbey without permission, Brendan is further dejected when Aidan informs him that he will be unable to complete the book without a crystal that makes intricate drawings possible. According to legend, Crom guards these crystals in its cave. As Northmen advance on the abbey, Brendan returns to the forest to obtain the prize that will help bring his country out of darkness.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 3,430 users: 81% for The Secret of Kells

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 81 for The Secret of Kells

What do you say?

Tags: Alternate universe · Animation · Beasts and monsters · Coming of age · Dreams and visions · Master and pupil

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