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Lore of the Claddagh Rings

The Secret of Kells (2009)


“The Secret of Kells” shocked the punditry and just about everyone else when it earned a 2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination alongside “Up,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and other better-known counterparts. Yet, this small, independent, hand-drawn film from co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey might be the most evocative movie of the bunch, a picture that relies on a potpourri of cubist and impressionistic sensibilities to tell a standard coming-of-age story in a way it’s not been told before.

Set in the 10th century, steeped in Gaelic legend, it chronicles the writing of the “Book of Kells,” a real medieval manuscript of the Old Testament caked in enormously elaborate illustrations. In one of the few ways it could be accused of borrowing from Disney, the picture offers as its protagonist a precocious young orphan named Brendan (Evan McGuire), who wants little more than to experience the world outside his front door. Yet, Vikings are carving a path of destruction throughout Europe, leaving Brendan’s uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) to determine that the best way to keep the citizens of Kells secure is to confine them behind an enormous physical barrier.

With photo-realism having fast become the animated norm, it’s easy to forget that there were animators creating remarkably vivid worlds by hand long before the advent of C.G.I. Fortunately, Mr. Moore and Ms. Twomey are here to remind us, offering abstract swirls of color, light and sound to convey Brendan’s feelings and experiences, ensconced against a background often composed of sinister reds and grays. Expressive eyes, simmering fog and a wealth of Celtic iconography further enhance the transfixing sense of otherworldliness, playing up the foreign primitiveness of the Dark Ages setting, when the hearts and minds of civilization struggled against the lawlessness of the beasts. See this movie now.


Opened on March 5 in New York , on April 2 in Los Angeles and on Oct. 1 in Britain.

Directed by Tomm Moore; co-directed by Nora Twomey; written by Fabrice Ziolkowski; character design by Mr. Moore and Barry Reynolds; edited by Fabienne Alvarez-Giro; music by Bruco Coulais; art director, Ross Stewart; produced by Ivan Rouveure; released by GKIDS (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A. and rated PG by B.B.F.C.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Evan McGuire (Brendan), Mick Lally (Brother Aidan), Christen Mooney (Aisling), Brendan Gleeson (Abbot Cellach), Liam Hourican (Brother Tang/Leonardo), Paul Tylak (Brother Assoua), Michael McGrath (Adult Brendan) and Paul Young (Brother Square).


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