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Rated 2.91 stars
by 314 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Both Familiar and Unfamiliar
by Jeffrey Chen

The Secret of Kells, a traditionally animated film, takes place in ancient Ireland and plays tug-of-war with itself. The story focuses on a boy who helps to complete the illuminated manuscript known today as the Book of Kells. Both in form and content, it strives to present an artistic depiction of its tale while also trying to be accessible -- paricularly, it seems -- to potential younger viewers. So on the one hand, while much of the animation comes across as quite beautiful and stylized, once you're settled in, it looks and moves with a ring of familiarity -- bold lines, striking colors, geometrically caricatured characters, dynamic motion -- that wouldn't feel out of place among certain fare on the Cartoon Network.

This is not a slam, merely an opinion that the feel is, in some aspects, derivative; but certainly it's also a high-end version of that feel, for much of the artwork here looks splendid. Similar words could be said about its narrative, which falls back on occasional goofy humor and, more regrettably, seems driven by the clichéd story of an irrepressible kid being held back by a stubborn authority figure. In this case, young Brendan (voice of Evan McGuire) wants to explore the dangerous forest outside of the under-construction walls of the safe haven (against marauding barbarians) ruled by his uncle, Abbot Cellach (voice of Brendan Gleeson), in order to find the natural inks to help complete a magical book brought in by the displaced visitor Brother Aidan (voice of Mick Lally). Thankfully, this is mainly just the set-up, as the story concludes in a wholly unpredictable way and emphasizes such lessons as the retainment of knowledge, art, and spirit as perhaps the most valuable act for any surviving society.

In this tug-of-war, then, the positives do end up greatly outweighing the negatives, resulting in a movie that leaves one in appreciation of both its detailed visuals and its courage to tell a story that suggests standing up to the destructive force of violence requires not more violence but long-term acts of art and preservation instead.

(Released by GKIDS; not rated by MPAA.)

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