Over the past ten years since the debut of Shrek it seems Dreamworks has sold the world on the idea that kid’s movies have to feature insipid stories and animals with annoying voices. Then, to disprove this, a small European company called Cartoon Saloon released The Secret of Kells, a movie on the opposite end of the spectrum from Puss-in-Boots or Ice Age 3. In The Secret of Kells, there’s a strong story, no annoying talking animals (instead there’s a normal cat who doesn’t speak that children will probably adore) and the animation is lushly detailed and stylishly designed.
The book centers around the creation of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the 7th century. At that time, it was customary for monks to show their religious fervor by pouring large amounts of their energy into creating elaborate illustrations to accompany a piece of holy text. If you’re worried your child might be bored by a movie about a book, think again. The story involves an aged sage hiring a young boy to complete the manuscript, as his own hands have become palsied and his vision blurry. Before starting on the manuscript, the boy has to venture out into the forest to find a special type of berry that is crushed down to create the ink. The premise isn’t too far-fetched, as painters for hundreds of years went to great lengths to get the colors they wanted, from smashing jewels to even using cow urine. Once he’s in the forest, he meets a girl who can communicate with animals and their adventure takes off.
What’s nice about The Secret of Kells is that it’s plot isn’t overtly religious, and in many ways it’s about the joy of creation itself. There’s a handful of good scenes featuring the main character picking up a pen and learning to draw that’ll hopefully inspire kids to do the same.
Is The Secret of Kells just for kids? No. This is a movie that adults with imaginations will also enjoy. I was reminded a lot of the classic children’s fantasy films The Secret of Nimh, Taro the Dragon Boy and Nausicaa while I watched this.
In short, I’d much sooner recommend you rent The Secret of Kells than watch Shrek 8 or whatever else the big studios are churning out this month.
Here’s the trailer:
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The Secret of Kells is available on Netflix Instant.