Friday, February 4, 2011

The Secret of Kells

So, I watched this film about a year ago and it is without a doubt one of my favorite films. I also think it is one of the most spectacular animated films produced in animated years. It's an Irish film called The Secret of Kells, which unfortunately never saw wide release in the US.

The Secret of Kells is a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells, one of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts ever created. Set in the time of the viking raids, an abbot named Cellach is obsessed with building a wall to protect a monastery from viking raiders. Cellach expects his nephew Brendan to continue his work when he's gone, but Brendan is mainly interested in illuminating manuscripts. He is told the story of Aidan of Iona, a master illuminator who fled a viking raid with what is supposed to be a beautiful illuminated manuscript. Aidan later comes to the monastery, takes Brendan under his wing, and asks Brendan to venture into the forest to look for gall nuts to make ink. Despite being forbidden to do so by the Abbot, Brendan ventures into the forest where he meets a forest spirit named Aisling.

The film is notable in two ways. First, the animation is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. In today's world, it is one of the few 2D animation films in a sea of 3D animation, which is wonderful to see again. The drawings are remarkably detailed, as the above image shows, and simply needs to be seen to understand just how great it is.

The plot of the film is great, in that it draws from Irish history and mythology. Aisling is supposed to be a type of Irish fairy called the Tuatha De Danann, and at one point Brendan battles a pre-Christian Irish deity called the Crom Cruach. All of this gives the film an enchanting feel.

The Secret of Kells was actually nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Pixar's Up. I've always felt it should have won, not only because it's an enchanting film, but because in an age when the animation industry is utterly dominated by 3D animation, it's important that awesome 2D animation is awarded, so that the art does not die out. After all, most of the greatest films in animated history, and nearly all the films of our childhood, were hand drawn.


  1. Although I haven't seen the film, I think it sounds interesting. I loved the movie "Up", but I think if this film is as good as you say it is, especially for a 2D movie, it should be recognized. I miss the old days when 2D was all we had.

  2. Seems like a nice movie, I'll try and see if I can get my hands on it. But I really agreed with what you said about modern animation being dominated by 3d films. I think that the traditional 2d animation in a way brings out an aspect of animation the 3d does not have at all. And because of that I'm really glad that Japanese animators still stick to the 2d format.

  3. I miss the old days of animation. I common characteristic in 3D today that didn't happen as often in 2D was movies with actual people. How many 3D movies have their starring protagonists? If humans are seen at all, they're usually the "bad" guys. I'll look into this movie. My younger sister is named Aislinn, a more English variation of Aisling.

  4. I really want to see this movie, even though I'm not sure it would haven beaten "Up." Disney Pixar knows how to make movies well, and the musical score alone makes it one worth watching.

    Still, I agree with your comment about the transition from 2D to 3D animation. It's a shame that 2D is such a rarity these days. Sure, it may not look as realistic or detailed as computer animation, but it stands the test of time and it is so much more enchanting. If you look at the original Toy Story compared to Toy Story 3, you'll think that the animation in the first one is horrible. But if you look at Disney's Cinderella, a 50-year old movie, the animation is still beautiful.