Even though it’s a cartoon, one of my absolute favourite movies is The Secret of Kells. We first saw it at a vintage theatre in our area, and it has since become a family tradition to watch it every St. Patrick’s Day. The plot surrounds the Book of Kells, a sacred text illuminated by monks, and also incorporates elements of Celtic mythology. The result is a charming and vibrant blend of Irish history.
The main character, Brendan (who looks like a cartoon version of my son), is given the rare opportunity to work on the renowned Book of Kells, though he’s just a boy and has little experience with the art of illumination. His passion for the book meets disapproval from his uncle, the abbot. Preoccupied with building a wall around their monastery to protect against Viking attacks, his uncle feels Brendan’s time would be better spent aiding in the construction efforts. Brendan’s desire to work on his own project leads him not only to defy his uncle but into the forest surrounding the monastery where he has been strictly forbidden to go. There he meets Aisling, a mischievous fairy, who assists him in various aspects of his quest to work on and protect the Book of Kells.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every frame of The Secret of Kells is a piece of art. The term “eye candy” doesn’t even come close to expressing how gorgeous this movie is. Its style is sometimes amusing but also hauntingly beautiful, and there’s something simultaneously simple and intricate about it. The detail is astounding, for example each snowflake is designed to look like a falling Celtic knot, and yet there’s an almost childlike charm to the animation. Perhaps what I find most fascinating about this movie is that it was created to reflect the book at the centre of its story. The movie itself often looks like an illuminated manuscript, a tribute to its subject, and a wonderful way to “show not tell.”
While the book that inspired the movie is a sacred text, the messages expressed by the characters extend to all good works of literature:
“If there were no books, all knowledge would be lost for eternity,” says one of the monks, while another insists, “The people must have books so that they may have hope.”
As a writer, I must say I heartily agree! I will always, always choose books over movies, but how can I not love a movie that actually extols the virtues of books? And this is precisely the type of movie kids should see: creative, imaginative, and altogether magical (though definitely a bit scary in parts for the wee ones.) If you haven’t ever watched The Secret of Kells, next St. Patty’s Day give yourself an Irish treat that’s a whole lot more satisfying than green beer. Your imagination will thank you!