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Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Animated Feature Film
Movie Review

The Secret of Kells also known as “Büyülü kitap,” “Brendan and the Secret of Kells,” “Brendan et le secret de Kells,” “Brendan und das Geheimnis von Kells,” “El secreto de los Kells”

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Reviewed by: Carissa Horton

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Family Teens Adults
Animation Adventure Kids Family Drama
1 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 4, 2009 (select)
March 5, 2010 (NYC)
DVD: October 5, 2010
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, GKIDS

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer



Word of God

AFRAID OF THE DARK—How can I help my child to trust in God’s care when she is afraid at night? Answer

Kid Explorers
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Brendan Gleeson (Abbot Cellach—voice), Liam Hourican (Brother Tang / Leonard—voice), Mick Lally (Aidan—voice), Michael McGrath (Adult Brendan—voice), Evan McGuire (Brendan—voice), Christen Mooney (Aisling—voice), Paul Tylack (Brother Assoua—voice), Paul Young (Brother Square—voice)
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Producer: Les Armateurs, Vivi Film, Cartoon Saloon, France 2 Cinéma, Didier Brunner, Rahma Ghili, Tomm Moore, Ivan Rouvreure, Viviane Vanfleteren, Paul Young
Distributor: GKIDS

Twelve-year-old Brendan (Evan McGuire) lives a sheltered life, safe behind the walls of Kells, built by his uncle, Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). Cellach lives in constant fear about what lies beyond Kells, a world ravaged by the brutality of the Vikings. But while Cellach allows the fear to consume him, Brendan lives in hope that all will be well.

When Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), a renowned illuminator among the monks, arrives, Brendan sees his world through new eyes. Aidan’s goal is to complete The Book of Kells, a supernatural volume said to contain truths that will destroy all evil souls when looked upon.

With Brendan eager to make himself useful, Brother Aidan finds him a willing and apt pupil of the quill. Together, the two of them work tirelessly to complete the volume. When Aidan runs low on a certain berry containing radiant green dye, Brendan is finally given the chance to venture beyond the walls of Kell. Without Cellach knowing, Brendan sneaks into the forest surrounding Kells, eager to find the berry his mentor requires. But it is dark, and Brendan, in his fear, loses himself in the woods.

If not for a tiny wood fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney), Brendan would have remained lost forever, or, even worse, been devoured by ravenous wolves. Brendan discovers a dear friend in the mischievous Aisling, something he has never had before. But upon his return to Kells, Brendan finds his uncle in an uproar because Brendan risked his safety by venturing beyond the outer walls of Kells.

With the danger of the Viking invaders drawing closer, Brendan longs even more strongly to complete the book with Brother Aidan, but Cellach refuses to allow him to participate further. Is it possible for Abbott Cellach to realize in time that fear is not the answer to adversity, but rather faith?

Foreign animated films are always remarkable to watch. But I don’t think I’ve seen anything to compare with “The Secret of Kells.” On the whole, the style seems mundane, even plain, until an intricately designed scene is displayed and the viewer is left in awe. The Book of Kells, itself, is an amazing piece of animation, as is the forest with the shadows falling on the characters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, and probably never will again.

And because of the remarkable style, this film is much more likely to attract an adult crowd of viewers. The plot is for mature audiences, and even the violence, while not gruesome, is far more expansive than in most animated movies.

What intrigue me the most are the religious undertones of “The Secret of Kells.” Fairies aside, the story is very Christian in origin. This magical book, the book that slays evil and rewards truth, is none other than the Bible. Brendan realizes that his uncle has put his faith in walls, in a material object to protect the people from harm. But walls can be broken, it is the soul of a person that matters most. The Book of Kells offers truth to the thirsty soul, provides answers to unspoken questions. It makes a wall unnecessary. Brendan places his faith in God and forgets to be afraid. He finds truth in The Book of Kells.

While I wouldn’t recommend this film for most young children, it might be something to consider for your tweens and teens. Sometimes it is the subtle Christian message that really clicks in a person’s mind, like Gandalf’s resurrection in The Fellowship of the Ring. I found the same truth in “The Secret of Kells,” even with a fairy lurking in the background. There is sorrow and death contained in this film, but also truth and light. It’s really a shame this movie didn’t win the Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film. I would have chosen it, hands down. If only more animated films went beyond superficial and worldly things, then more people might understand truth, as Christians see it.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Negative—The author of the screenplay has constructed a fanciful tale to explain the enormous beauty of the illuminated manuscript of the Book of Kells. The movie revolves around symbolism, the symbols found in the illuminated manuscript. Symbols constantly dance across the screen in the movie. The screenplay portrays a story that involves the Church symbolically, which will affect children’s perceptions of the Church. The abbot is portrayed as the keeper of the fort, the abbey and church—the guardian of truth (he even tries to take the book under his own care). He is portrayed as very weary and wrong in his focus. He is obsessed with protecting the abbey, which seems to symbolize the church.

The old scribe, Aiden, tells the young lad the story of the originator of the book, who is described humorously as having a third eye or many fingers or extra hands, to explain the supernatural beauty of the Book. Aiden explains that it was created with the use of a crystal, and he mourns its loss. The crystal has a symbol on it, a pentagram-like symbol which is eerily close to the devil’s symbol. The scribes use the crystal “eye,” which has been stolen from the serpent/destroyer, to create the illumination in the Book. Obviously, the serpent is the devil. The forest represents paganism, with its standing stones, wolves, and forest spirit. Celts used to worship these forest spirits. The white wolf is a spirit that Brandon makes friends with, and who protects him in the forest. The forest is supposedly the source of all the beauty that Brandon incorporates into the art he creates, as well as using the serpent’s eye (the crystal).

So, in effect, you have a boy who has a familiar spirit, who “steals” the crystal from the serpent to use to see with. By using the serpent’s eye, he can make better art than man should be capable of. Interestingly, at one point in the movie, the forest girl/spirit turns the cat into a spirit and sends it “where she can’t go.” The spirit cat steals the key hanging directly over the abbot’s head while he is asleep, and then unlocks Brandon. Brandon then leaves the abbey, and in what is portrayed as an act of courage, takes the serpent’s crystal from it’s own den. The underwater portrayal of the art conveys the impression that he went into the spirit world to do this.

The Book of Kells, which is never mentioned as containing the Gospel, is revered for its art. The message of it is portrayed as “sinners are destroyed when they look at it,” or “dark is turned into light.” Sinners are saved through the Gospel, not destroyed. Dark flees from light, it is not turned into light. The message of the movie is a very apt tale of what is happening to the church today. The spirit of paganism has invaded the church, and that which belongs to Satan is being used to “illuminate” the Bible. The movie is about syncretism. The “third eye,” which is an occult idea, is portrayed as being a useful and even necessary tool to bring out the beauty of the Gospel. In order to have this third eye, the possessor has to go into the forest of paganism, and the spirit world. The movie promotes a disturbing and twisted message.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Denise Hayden, age 51 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I first heard about the “Secret of Kells” in 2009. I saw the front cover and instantly knew it was a foreign film, (which i adore by the way) and knew I wanted to see it. Well, to my dismay, I had to wait until 2011 to be able to purchase and it, and I can tell you it was well worth the wait!

The films stunning animation sequences are breathtaking and I found my eyes scanning over the tv screen multiple times trying to take it all in. The characters were very well-rounded and the story line was easy to follow.

This is a religious movie (I mean, it DOES take place in an Abbey) and it felt real to me. The young boy Brendan is very courageous and he presents a positive message, that even when you are afraid, you can face your fears (which he does). The end of the movie was very sweet and reminded me of the St. Patrick story (you’ll see what I mean when you see it).

All in all, great film, great story, great message. I would recommend this film to adults, teens, and mature children. I wouldn’t recommend this for children under the age of six or seven because ***SPOILERS*** there are several scary scenes involving a sea beast looking thing, creepy looking Northmen who set fire to Kells, and we witness the Father Abbot being stabbed and shot with an arrow; although no blood is shown.

This was a great film, and I encourage everyone who reads this to see it. You won’t regret it!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Koi, age 14 (USA)
Movie Critics
…Refreshingly different precisely because its look is so profoundly retro… harks back not just to older animation styles but to pre-medieval illuminated manuscript tradition. With its jewel-bright colors and intricate use of lines, the result is absolutely luscious to behold. …
—Leslie Felperin, Variety
…wonderfully strange and exquisite little feature was created, especially for young children…
—Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
…An animated gem… deserved its Oscar nom… noteworthy for its unique, ornate design, its moments of silence (Moore is obviously a big Miyazaki fan) and gorgeous music. …
—Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News
…it’s the way the visuals tap into mediæval Celtic art that elevates this Oscar-nominated animation…[3½/4]
—Jeffrey Gantz, The Boston Phoenix
…A visual feast… quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. [3½/4]
—Lou Lumenick, New York Post
…A beguiling kaleidoscopic indulgence for the eyes and soul. …
—Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter