The Book of Kells is an exquisitely illustrated Irish manuscript containing the Four Gospels, a fragment of Hebrew names, and the Eusebian canons. It is sometimes called The Book of Columbia, because it was created some time at the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century in the monastery of Iona to honor the saint. It is written in black, red, purple, and yellow ink and the writing and the illumination of the manuscript is thought to be the work of two monks. The ornaments of the text include closely coiled spirals, ribbons knotted together, and imaginative depiction of human beings, animals, horses, dogs, and fanciful creatures. The intricate beauty and imagistic variety of The Book of Kells is astonishing, and it stands out in the Christian tradition as a masterwork of devotional ecstasy.
Director Tomm Moore has fashioned a marvelous animated movie centered around The Book of Kells. This Irish production has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature category. The two-dimensional hand-drawn animation is peppered with traditional Celtic symbols the landscape comes alive with swirls, spirals, and vivid lush scenes of light and dramatic haunting scenes of darkness. Some parts look like they have jumped out of the pages of the book.
The story, set in the ninth century, revolves around Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire), a ten-year old novice at the Abbey in Kells, Ireland. He is a curious and creative young boy with a talent for drawing. He loves hanging out with the monks in the monastery's scriptorium, who are copying and illustrating manuscripts. But his sour and serious uncle, the Abbott (Brendan Gleeson), would much rather have him working on the monastery's major project, firming up the walls to protect the people who live there from an expected attack by the bloodthirsty Vikings. He is convinced that the strength of their walls will convince the invaders of the strength of their faith.
One day, Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), accompanized by his cat Pangur Ban, arrives at Kells with news that the Vikings have destroyed the monastery at Iona. He is a renowned illuminator and has managed to save the famous Book of Iona, which he believes has the power to turn darkness into light. Seeing Brendan's interest in the Book, he gives him the assignment of finding some berries to make ink. The boy is eager to please but first he must overcome his fears of what is outside the walls. Since the Abbot has forbidden him from going into the forest, he and Pangur the cat must go in secret. Before long they are lost and under attack from mysterious creatures. But a fairy named Aisling (Christen Mooney) rescues them and together they explore this beautiful world. Later, when the Vikings do attack, she helps Brendan and Aidan save the Book.
The Secret of Kells is a stunningly beautiful animated feature for families that celebrates the potent melding of creativity and faith. We easily identify with Brendan and his quest to help complete the Book in the face of many setbacks and troubles. He admires his mentor, Brother Aidan, yet never loses his love for his uncle, despite the old man's rigid beliefs and attitudes. Watching him work on the illuminated manuscript, with the aid of a crystal he has risked everything to get, we were reminded of what Henry Ward Beecher, a nineteenth-century Protestant minister, once said: "Imagination is the secret marrow of civilization. It is the very eye of faith."
Special features include "Notes from the Master Illuminators"; audio commentary with the director, co-director, and art director; "Voices of Ireland: Voice Recording Sessions with Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney and Mick Lally"; director's presentation of pre-production sketches and inspirational images; "Pencil To Picture"; early concept trailer; Aisling at the Oscars; and the theatricaltTrailer.