Very rarely does a film come around that contains so much craftsmanship and inherent beauty in this capitalistic field. The Secret of Kells transcends the animation medium to new heights; clearly for artistry and not simple entertainment. The film is very entertaining for an Irish production despite its rather unique style of visual storytelling. Inspired by stain glass windows and a certain amount of Middle Age-era paintings, the hand-drawn animation (assisted by certain amount of computerized rendering) may be a bit jarring to first-time eyes.
However, the story is something truly to behold. We follow a young boy (a cautiously voiced Evan McGuire) that is trapped within the village of Kells. He is trapped within its walls and trapped within its traditions. No part of its culture or practices come off too biased, but the boy’s uncle (voiced by the wonderful Brenden Gleeson) is devout in keeping Kells protected from the outside world whether it be Vikings (the second film on this list featuring Vikings, however these are depicted as villainous) or demons. Fortunately, we get an understanding that he is trying to simply protect his people (otherwise, the film might have gone an anti message route), however his ideologies and behavior come off a bit too strict and arrogant for some other members of Kells. Another uncle of the boy (voiced by a very idealistic Mick Lally) visits the village with the intent of finishing their great book of lessons and stories. The boy is eager to learn from his “good” uncle, but “bad” uncle wants his nephew to do his chores and tasks in order to keep Kells safe. The young lad begins to discover that growth can only be attained through a bending of the rules. This leads him to eventually leave the city, by the somewhat misplaced permission of his optimistic uncle, to meet a forest spirit/sprite named Aisling. She appears to be the same age as the boy even though it is established fairly early on that she has been around for hundreds of years. She is the single most intriguing character in the whole story because she acts like a Shakespearean mystical figure. She jests, sings, and often warns characters of their actions like a concerned chorus. She helps the boy, Brendan, on his journey while at the same time stepping out of it when the danger becomes too great.
It is a somewhat romantic element to the story to have the two children mingle and walk away from Kells’ older influences and it is something that all humans find somehow beautiful. Her influence on the story applies to the abstract nature of Tomm Moore’s direction and storytelling. The conflict and danger in this film is also depicted just as ghostlike as Aisling, but because she is a symbol of good—she is far more human than the Vikings and evil spirits that the characters all face. All of the lessons and stories go into the Kells book, which prides itself on its storytelling. This is probably the most fascinating lesson to the film. All great stories should have a measure of significance and imagination, and this film has exactly that.