Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, Up, andâ€¦The Secret of Kells?
Yes, newcomer Tomm Mooreâ€™s independent and widely unfamiliar debut film joins mainstream titles from Disney, Pixar, and the amazing Wes Anderson on the list of Oscar nominees for this yearâ€™s Best Animated Feature Film.Â But what the heck is it doing there?
The historically based tale tells the story of Brendan (Evan McGuire), a young orphaned boy living in the Irish Abbey of Kells during the Middle Ages. Â Brendanâ€™s uncle, Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson, also known as Mad-Eye Moody to Harry Potter fans) has dictated the construction of a wall around the entire Abbey in order to protect his people from the Northmen, a group of evil Vikings.Â Young Brendan and the other Brothers of the Abbey lack enthusiasm for the wall construction, and would rather spend their time practicing the Abbeyâ€™s ancient tradition of reading, writing, and preserving important historical texts.
When Brother Aidan of Iona, a famous master illuminator, arrives in Kells, Brendan becomes curiously interested in his work and soon finds out that the wise old man has big plans for the young child.Â Brother Aidan has grown too old to write the most important page of the infamous Book of Iona, said to â€œturn darkness into lightâ€ upon its completion, and he has chosen Brendan to write it for him.Â Although he is forbidden to venture outside the village walls, Brendan bravely travels into the secret forest on a mission to collect supplies for his task.Â Here begins his triumphant, coming-of-age journey toward success and self-discovery.
When I first read the synopsis for The Secret of Kells, I was not convinced that it would necessarily appeal to children.Â But Mooreâ€™s animation is breathtaking, and at times mesmerizing â€“ 75 minutes of beautifully colored, astonishing artwork that is sure to gain attention of children and adults alike.Â In addition, Brother Aidanâ€™s adorable and comically represented cat, Pangur BÃ¡n (creatively named after a real historical poem written by an Irish monk about his cat), serves as Brendanâ€™s watchful eyes and tiny protector throughout his quest, which adds a playful, childlike quality to the tale.
What shocked me most, though, was the filmâ€™s ability to draw attention away from an obvious religion-based theme, and instead shine light on the plotâ€™s more critical ideas like courage, personal identity, and the value of a strong imagination. Most importantly, Brendan becomes inspired to exercise his mind and explore every corner of our vast and changing world.Â â€œYou canâ€™t find out everything from books, you know,â€ he says to Brother Aidan, who smiles, then wryly replies, â€œI think I read that once.â€
The Secret of Kells will doubtfully win a shiny golden statue this year, but it has certainly earned its spot beside the victor.