Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
May 26th
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

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival