The Secret of Kells

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The Secret of Kells
The Secret Of Kells Promo Poster.jpg
Directed by Tomm Moore
Nora Twomey
Produced by Paul Young
Didier Brunner
Vivian Van Fleteren
Screenplay by Fabrice Ziolkowski
Story by Tomm Moore
Starring Brendan Gleeson
Evan McGuire
Christen Mooney
Mick Lally
Music by Bruno Coulais
Edited by Fabienne Alvarez-Giro
Les Armateurs
Vivi Film
Cartoon Saloon
France 2 Cinéma
Euroimages Fund of the Council of Europe
EU Media Plus Program
Media Programme of the European Community
CinéCinéma Classic
Conseil Général de la Charente
Conseil Régional de Poitou Charentes
Piste Rouge
Bord Scannán na hÉireann
Broadcasting Commission of Ireland
Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds
Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel de la Communauté Française de Belgique
Télédistributeurs Wallons
Tax Shelter ING Invest de Tax Shelter Productions
Belgacom TV
Kinepolis Multi
Distributed by Gébéka Films (France)
Kinepolis Film Distribution (Belgium)
Walt Disney Pictures (Ireland) StudioCanal
Release dates
  • 30 January 2009 (2009-01-30) (Gérardmer Film Festival)
  • 11 February 2009 (2009-02-11) (France/Belgium)
  • 3 March 2009 (2009-03-03) (Ireland)
Running time
75 minutes
Country France
Language English
Budget €6,524,983
Box office $739,454[citation needed]

The Secret of Kells (working title: Brendan and the Secret of Kells) is a 2009 French-Belgian-Irish[2] animated fantasy film by Cartoon Saloon that premiered on 8 February 2009, at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival. It went into wide release in Belgium and France on 11 February, and Ireland on 3 March. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.[3][4]

Plot summary[edit]

A young boy in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids is beckoned to adventure when a celebrated master illuminator arrives with an ancient book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers.


The film gives a fictionalised account of the creation of the Book of Kells, wherein Abbot Cellach, obsessed with building a wall to keep Viking raiders from the Abbey of Kells, expects his nephew Brendan to succeed him. Meanwhile Brendan is apprenticed in the scriptorium of the monastery, and later directly to Aidan of Iona, who arrives in Kells (accompanied by Pangur Bán) after his own monastery is destroyed by a raid. Aidan sends Brendan to obtain gall nuts to make ink for illumination of the story's eponymous book, where Brendan befriends a forest spirit named Aisling. Brendan later learns that Aidan's work is endangered by the loss of the Eye of Collum-Cille, a special magnifying lens captured from Crom Cruach. When Brendan tries to approach Crom's cave to obtain another Eye, he is confined to his room by Cellach, and Pangur Bán invites Aisling's help; whereupon Aisling uses a ghostly form of Pangur Bán to steal the key to Brendan's room. When Brendan tells Aisling of his objective, she argues that Crom Cruach killed her mother and will surely kill him as well; but Brendan persuades her to assist him. Eventually Aisling helps Brendan enter Crom's cave, where Brendan seizes the Eye and Crom, in the search for him, destroys itself. Thereafter Brendan returns to the Abbey and assists Aidan in secret. Shortly thereafter, the Vikings invade Kells and Cellach hides his nephew and Aidan in the scriptorium. Upon their own escape, Brendan and Aidan are confronted by the raiders, and the Viking leader takes the book's bejeweled cover and scatters the pages. Before the Vikings can destroy Brendan and Aidan, Aisling's black wolves attack the Vikings. Brendan and Aidan thereafter travel across Ireland, and complete the book. After Aidan's passing, the now-adult Brendan returns, guided by Aisling, to his uncle, to whom he displays the complete Book of Kells. The film then closes with an animation of the illuminated pages.

Voice cast[edit]

  • Evan McGuire as Brendan, the protagonist. Twelve-year-old Brendan is bright, imaginative and curious, but leads a sheltered life. Brendan is very interested in the art of illumination, and spends much of his time in the scriptorium with some of the Brothers in the abbey.
  • Brendan Gleeson as Abbot Cellach. A former illuminator himself, Abbot Cellach now superintends a wall to protect the Abbey of Kells from invasion, and gradually becomes unreasonable until the destruction of his wall, and relents thereafter.
  • Christen Mooney as Aisling, a fairy, related to the Tuatha De Danann, living in the woods outside of Kells. Her age is uncertain, but she is likely to be hundreds of years old. Although terrified of Crom Cruach, she becomes loyal to Brendan and does whatever she can to help him. She often takes the form of a white wolf, in which shape she commands the local wolves for the forest. In the beginning, she speaks like Tuan mac Cairill in the Lebor Gabála Érenn.
  • Mick Lally as Brother Aidan; as the Vikings attacked the Scottish island of Iona, master illuminator Brother Aidan fled with his cat, Pangur Bán. In Kells, he acquires Brendan as an assistant.
  • Michael McGrath as Adult Brendan.
  • Liam Hourican as Brothers Tang and Leonardo, two illuminators from Asia and Italy, respectively. The latter is implied to have perished in the Norse invasion, whilst the former witnesses the return of Brendan.
  • Paul Tylack as Brother Assoua, an illuminator from Africa. He is implied to have died in the invasion.
  • Paul Young as Brother Square, an illuminator from England. He is implied to have died in the invasion.


Folio 32v of the original Book of Kells shows Christ enthroned.

The film was very well received; it holds a 91% overall approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 78 reviews with an average rating of 7.6/10[5] with the critical consensus that "Beautifully drawn and refreshingly calm, The Secret of Kells hearkens back to animation's golden age with an enchanting tale inspired by Irish mythology."[5] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 81 (indicating "universal acclaim") based on 20 reviews.

Some critics compared the film to Hayao Miyazaki's works such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. called it "a unique animated movie … beautifully made … has a magical other-worldly feel, with a script and visuals that reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's movies (Spirited Away, etc..)… puts other 3D movies with bigger budgets to shame." Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal said that "it pay homage to Celtic culture and design, together with techniques and motifs that evoke Matisse, Miyazaki and the minimalist cartoons of UPA.”[6] Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News said that The Secret of Kells "is noteworthy for its unique, ornate design, its moments of silence ... and gorgeous music."[7]

Leslie Felperin of Variety Magazine praised the film as "Refreshingly different" and "absolutely luscious to behold".[8] Jeremy W. Kaufmann of Ain't It Cool News called its animation "absolutely brilliant,"[9] and reviewers at Starlog called it "one of the greatest hand drawn independent animated movies of all time."[10] Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Charles Solomon ranked the series the tenth best anime on his "Top 10".[11]

On Oscar weekend it was released at the IFC Center in New York City and it has since been released in other venues and cities in the United States. As of 11 July 2010, it has grossed $667,441.[12]


The film is based on the story of the origin of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament located in Dublin, Ireland. It also draws upon Celtic mythology,[13] examples include its inclusion of Crom Cruach, a pre-Christian Irish deity[14] and the reference to the poetic genre of Aislings, in which a poet is confronted by a dream or vision of a seeress, in the naming of the forest sprite encountered by Brendan. Wider mythological similarities have also been commented upon, such as parallels between Brendan's metaphysical battle with Crom Cruach and Beowulf's underwater encounter with Grendel's mother.[15]

The Secret of Kells began development in 1999, when Tomm Moore and several of his friends were inspired by Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler, Disney's Mulan and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, which based their visual style on the respective traditional art. They decided to do something similar to Studio Ghibli's films but with Irish art.[16]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bynum, Aaron H. (11 June 2008). "Brendan and the Secret of Kells Animation Film at Annecy '08". Animation Insider. p. 2. Retrieved 26 October 2008. 
  2. ^ Lumenick, Lou (5 March 2010). "A visual feast – just add Celt". New York Pos. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  3. ^ Scott, A. O. (5 March 2010). "Outside the Abbey's Fortified Walls, a World of Fairy Girls and Beasts". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  4. ^ Ryzik, Melena (2 March 2010). "An Indie Takes on Animation's Big Boys". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "The Secret of Kells Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 17 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Crash of 'The Titans'". The Wall Street Journal. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Felperin, Leslie (25 February 2009). "Brendan and the Secret of Kells". Variety Magazine. Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  9. ^ Kaufmann, Jeremy W. (17 July 2009). "An Early Look at Distinctive Animated Film The Secret of Kells – US Premiere This Weekend". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  10. ^ Koller, Cameron and Riley (2 December 2009). "THE SECRET OF KELLS: The Little Movie That Should". Retrieved 4 December 2009. 
  11. ^ Solomon, Charles (December 21, 2010). "Anime Top 10: ‘Evangelion,’ ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ lead 2010′s best". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ Secret of Kells at Box Office Mojo
  13. ^ Hartl, John (13 May 2010). "'The Secret of Kells': An enchanting tale of a boy in barbarian times". Seattle Times. 
  14. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (4 March 2010). ""The Secret of Kells": Oscar's dazzling Irish surprise". 
  15. ^ "The Secret of Kells: the circle and the serpent". Basement Garden. 1 June 2010. 
  16. ^ Cohen, Karl (16 March 2010). "The Secret of Kells – What is this Remarkable Animated Feature?". Animation World Network. 
  17. ^ "Brendan and the Secret of Kells". 6 December 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2009.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  18. ^ The Secret of Kells wins Grand Prize at SICAF official site
  19. ^ A 9. Kecskeméti Animációs Filmfesztivál és a 6. Nemzetközi Animációs Fesztivál díjai (English: "Awards"). Kecskeméti Animáció Film Fesztivál. 2009.
  20. ^ "IFTA Winners 2010". 23 February 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  21. ^ "Aardman sweeps board at British Animation Awards". 8 April 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 

External links[edit]