Prior to seeing this film, I had held an opinion that the only people producing spectacular children's movies these days was Pixar. However, I this spurt of ethnocentrism was been corrected upon viewing the English version of The Secret of Kells. Relying very little on CGI, this animated film instead creates a world of vivid watercolors and dark chalked out nightmares that rival the big budget films of Hollywood animation studios. Furthermore, the film brilliantly combines very simple commentary on the wrongs of destroying the environment with deep pondering on childhood and the loss of innocence to create a movie that is enjoyable for both children and adults. Next to Wall-E and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret of Kells is the most prominent thing to happen to animation since Toy Story.
The film is rather simplistic in its plot given its nature. However, simplicity by no means implies an uninteresting film. In fact this is a rather well perfected coming-of-age tale, complete with a disapproving parental figure, a "grass is greener" belief, and even the sting of loss necessary for proper maturity. The film itself follows one Brendan (Evan McGuire) as he longs to become a master illuminator in his village. His Uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), however, finds the act of illumination to be futile in the face of a Viking attack which will, undoubtedly, destroy their village. Fortunately for Brendan, a famed illuminator visits the village and teaches him his own techniques, some of which include his venturing outside the village walls, where after a near death experience he meets Aisling (Christen Mooney), a sprite who claims to own the forest. What follows is a battle between Brendan's desires to become one with the natural world and his Cellach's forceful protection, which inevitably leads to a loss of not only the forest, but Cellach as well when he sacrifices himself to help Brendan pursue the power of the image.
It is the idea that words and ideas can prove more powerful than actions that drives this film. A simple message that is easily grasped by children and appreciated by adults. It is obvious that Cellach represents the oppressive nature of warfare, while Brendan and his mentors represent people of thought and compassion. Brendan learns while working on manuscripts that he is inextricably tied to the natural world and that no amount of brick walls can protect nature from intruding, as Aisling proves when she uses the wind to free him from the tower. As many great thinkers come to realize, change often requires destruction. Cellach is unable to appreciate the power of the natural world to change things until it is far to late, and in a sobering moment looks upon Brendan's illuminations and cries at their beauty. It is in this loss, however, that Brendan realizes that he must commit his soul to proclaiming the gloriousness of beauty and infuses himself into his work. Brendan's own Book of Kells posits a rejuvenation and rebirth of the world, remind the viewers that even after the most devastating losses one can grow and begin again.
This is a beautiful film. It is what children should be watching as opposed to half the crap that is released these days. However, it is certainly a great movie for adults as well, and I would recommend watching it on Netflix or grabbing a Blu-ray copy before it undeservedly falls to the wayside.