A wonder of geometry, the Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells unfolds as if a kaleidoscope had emptied its contents onto a table, where they magically assembled into intricate story panels. Very few animated films have had such a mesmerizing, puzzle-like quality.
The clear influences are the intricately “illuminated” copies of the Gospels that Irish monks drew by hand around 600 to 800 A.D. The microscopic patterns and shapes that detail such artifacts – including the actual Book of Kells – are echoed in the movie’s visual scheme, not only where you’d expect them (buildings, trees), but even in the characters’ faces.
Very few animated films have had such a mesmerizing, puzzle-like quality.
The story takes place in the monastic community of Kells, where a fearful abbot (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) is erecting a giant wall for fear of invading Vikings. His nephew (Evan McGuire) is more curious, both about the forest beyond the wall and a mysterious new manuscript that a visiting monk has brought and is in need of illuminating.
The Secret of Kells is a fascinating mixture of Christian tradition and Celtic paganism, especially when Brendan – in search of materials for illuminating the manuscript – sneaks into the forest and encounters a girlish sprite named Aisling (Christen Mooney). Rather than seeing these strands as opposing worldviews, however, the movie fits them together like two more exquisitely interlocked pieces in its elaborate design.