Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Sep 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Celtic Revival

film_kellsBoy saves medieval masterpiece in lovely, animated ‘Secret of Kells'
A boy on a heroic quest is not an unusual subject for an animated family film. But there's an extra layer of intrigue when the quest involves creating and preserving one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork in human history. When Irish animator Tomm Moore set out to make his first feature, he decided to delve into his own Celtic heritage for inspiration; the result is the lovely and poetic The Secret Of Kells, which imagines the story of a boy in a medieval monastery who helps to save the gorgeous 9th Century illuminated manuscript known to history as "The Book of Kells."

There's a wonderful symbiosis in Moore using hand-drawn cel animation to replicate the craftsmanship of medieval books painstakingly illuminated by hand. (It took Moore and co-director Nora Twomey five years to complete the film in this old-fashioned, non-CGI manner.) Which is not to say that Moore's film is merely an animated reproduction of the images from the "Kells." Yes, Moore's often ravishing artwork is inspired by the intricate patterns, vivid colors, and decorative details of Celtic design. But Moore's own highly stylized figure drawings and sense of whimsy convey an original story as the young hero awakens to the magic of art and the wonders of nature.

Brendan (voice of Evan McGuire) is a typically spunky and curious lad who lives in a monastery, the Abbey of Kells. His uncle, the Abbot (voice of  Brendan Gleeson) is a loving but stern caretaker who funnels all the energy and resources of the abbey into fortifying a gigantic stone wall around the grounds; barbarian Norsemen from across the sea are wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the land. The monks of the abbey scriptorium complain they are too busy wall-building to practice their craft, while Brendan has never even seen the world outside the wall.

But things change when wily old artisan, Brother Aiden (Mick Lally), from the abbey of Iona, arrives at Kells. When the Norsemen overran Iona, Aiden (fabled as "the perfect illuminator") escaped with his life's work, a marvelous book that will "turn darkness into light." Young Brendan is smitten with the gorgeous book and determines to help the old illuminator complete his masterwork.

Brendan disobeys his uncle to sneak outside the walls and into the forest, in search of a certain berry that produces the most dazzling shade of green. There, the boy (and his trusty cat, a charming touch) meet Aisling (Christen Mooney), a girl of the Fae. She introduces Brendan to the beauty and joy of the natural world, which inspires him later, when he starts adding his own illustrations to Aiden's book. But in the forest, he also discovers the sleeping giant of fear and oppression, the forces of darkness that his precious book will help to repel.

In the spirit of the original "Book of Kells," Moore's images have a flat, decorative look. Layers of arching blue seas have a Japanese woodblock quality; stylized flowers and plants float in the painterly green watercolor wash of the forest scenes; intricate linear patterns often draw themselves around the border of the screen. The scary Viking invaders are towering, devil-horned black shadows. When they attack, Moore' palette is reduced to black and white, ashy grey, and the red of blood and fire.

In one virtuoso scene, possibly a dream (in Moore's universe, dreams, reality, and fairy magic are as deliciously intertwined as a Celtic knot), Brendan sets out to battle the Dark One armed with only a piece of chalk. When his foe morphs into an exquisitely patterned and sinister serpent, Brendan draws a circle around it to contain the monster, a nifty metaphor for the power of art to subdue the forces of darkness.

Some character faces (notably Brendan and Aisling) may look a little simplistic next to the expressiveness of motion-capture digital animation. But the various monks are individualized with great humor and style. And Moore can't resist a grand finale in which he actually does animate the film_secret_of_kellsdesign of four or five pages from the "Book of Kells," bringing the images to life as vividly as his film illuminates a fanciful chapter in art and cultural history.

THE SECRET OF KELLS ★★★1/2 (out of four)

With the voices of Brendan Gleeson and Evan McGuire. Written by Fabrice Ziolkowski from a story by Tomm Moore.  Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. A release. Not rated. 75 minutes.

Watch movie trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Reflecting Glass

Composer Philip Glass’ first trip to Big Sur was by motorcycle; little did he know that he’d establish a music festival there six decades later.

 

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs this year during Libra, the sign of creating right relations with all aspects life and with earth’s kingdoms. We contemplate (the Libra meditation) forgiveness, which means, “to give for another.” Forgiveness is not pardon. It’s a sacrifice (fire in the heart, giving from the heart). Forgiveness is giving up for the good of the other. This is the law of evolution (the path of return).

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 26

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Wurst Case Scenario

Venus Spirits releases agave spirit, Renee Shepherd on planting garlic, Sausagefest 2014, and wine harvest in full swing

 

Do you think you are addicted to technology?

Santa Cruz  |  Unemployed

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Apricot Wine for Dessert

Thomas Kruse Winery, a participant in the new Santa Clara Wine Trail, has been around for a long time—since 1971, to be exact. When our little group arrived to try some wine at the Kruses’ low-key tasting room, Thomas Kruse and his wife Karen were there to greet us. Theirs is a small operation, and they’re proud to offer quality wine at affordable prices. “Because we are small and low-tech, it’s easy to relate to the whole winemaking process,” says Karen—and the Kruses take pride in making wine “just like it has been made for centuries.”