Today, animation is all about photorealism and three-dimensional effects. It’s a visual medium, of course, and its target audience is younger and more jaded in a way because they have seen all that the frame can currently contain.
On top of all that, the stories themselves need to reflect the pop-cultural relevance of the 24-hour news and entertainment cycle for both the kids and the adults who happen to be tagging along.
Somehow, The Secret of Kells slipped into the mix among the likes of Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog among the nominees for Best Animated Feature. The French/Belgian/Irish production tells the story of the boy behind the mythic Book of Kells, not at all familiar to audiences on this side of the pond.
The orphan Brendan (voiced as a boy by Evan McGuire and later as an adult by Michael McGrath), who lives among the abbots in a walled fortress, calls the stern Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) “uncle,’ but he quickly falls under the spell of the legendary Aidan (Mick Lally), the great illuminator working on a sacred text hundreds of years in the making that will turn darkness into light and that must be completed and brought to the world, not hidden away and protected. The story doesn’t back away from the blending of seemingly pagan elements and the more Christian-oriented themes; they co-exist and offer secret answers to the mysteries of life and our higher purposes. Grade: A