The Secret of Kells has the distinction of being one of the five best animated films nominated at the recent Oscars, only unlike its Hollywood brethren (Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog) it earned its impressive reputation without the kind of expensive ad campaign easy to reach with a major studio’s deep pockets. Make no mistake, The Secret of Kells is a kid’s film, yet it’s visionary and old fashioned at the same time.
The real Secret of Kells in Ireland is an illuminated manuscript containing the four gospels. To get an idea of what an illuminated manuscript means consider that hundreds of years ago people would travel for months across the known world, just like you or I travel 20-minutes down the street to see a movie, just to look at such a book. The real Secret of Kells book from the 8th century had its cover, studded with gold and jewels torn off during a robbery but the rest of the pages, each one individually decorated, are intact. Since the 17th century the text, approximately 680 pages of calfskin, have been preserved at a church in Ireland. In the movie the mystical book is called the Book of Iona.
The animation is hand drawn although the style seems more primitive than The Princess and the Frog. Yet the story contains more meaning from a historical point of view than say How To Train Your Dragon, which like Kells has a distinct medieval tone. Instead of Vikings and dragons we get monks and cats and that’s actually a kind of saving grace. The Secret of Kells isn’t about slick perfection so much as it’s a prime example of using visual imagery to induce physical emotion.