The Secret of Kells

Movie review: In 'Secret of Kells,' vivid animation outweighs muddled narrative

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010

Of this year's Oscar nominees for best animated feature, Ireland's "The Secret of Kells" was the outlier, its title drawing curious huh?s when it was announced. Now that this winsome, marvelously illustrated folk tale has arrived in domestic theaters, it's easy to see why it dazzled the technicians and artists who nominated it, although it's not nearly as accomplished narratively as it is visually.

The story has to do with a young boy named Brendan living in Ireland during the Middle Ages, a time of mystical superstitions and barbarian threats from the north. When Brendan's village is visited by a master book illuminator who carries with him a mysterious, unfinished book, the 12-year-old vows to help him complete the tome, a promise that involves the boy's venturing into a forbidding forest outside the village wall and meeting a beguiling sprite prone to shape-shifting into a white wolf.

At least I think that's what happens. "The Secret of Kells" is so talky and obscure that it's difficult to know with any certainty what's going on at any given moment. But the colors and images of this vividly imagined tale are striking enough that its storytelling sense barely matters. With its rhythmic lines and beautiful color palette, the film presents one treat for the eye after another, inviting filmgoers into a world as much inspired by mid-century design as medieval illustration.

If filmgoers ultimately feel bogged down in its densely layered fable and allegory, it's a spectacular thicket to get lost in.

** 1/2 Unrated. At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains fight and battle scenes. 75 minutes.

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