The Secret of Kells

Animated Irish folk tale about young Brendan, an apprentice in a monastery who becomes obsessed with completing the legendary Book of Kells, a treasured illuminated manuscript.  Set in the 9th century, this hand drawn film is a glorious mixture of Celtic art and geometric cubism; sort of The Powerpuff Girls Go to Ireland! in illustrative style. When Vikings attack the monastery, the assault is a brutally gorgeous scene, a stylized war of blood and snow.  The problem is with the spiritually muddled narrative.  It’s random and doesn’t flow like a good storyline should.   We know from history that the Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the New Testament.  That would explain its significance, yet although Brandon is compelled to finish the text, no explanation is ever given as to why.  Additionally, character development is minimal.  When Brendan goes out into the woods he encounters Aisling, a magical fairy.  She appears at first glance to be just a human girl.  Her ability to change form is never explained and a source of bewilderment whenever she is on screen.  Other sequences feel too abstract.  When he does battle with Crom Cruach, a Celtic snake god, the encounter becomes rather conceptual in style.  The odd execution feels lifted from the pages of Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Visually, however, this stunning fable is a joy to watch, a luxurious burst of color and glow.  The story is admittedly an awkward amalgamation of Christianity and pagan folklore.  Nevertheless, every frame is dazzling and the artwork’s hypnotic power can be appreciated even when the action is confusing.

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