The Secret of Kells

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The Secret of Kells
The Secret Of Kells Promo Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTomm Moore
Nora Twomey
Produced byPaul Young
Didier Brunner
Vivian Van Fleteren
Screenplay byFabrice Ziolkowski
Story byTomm Moore
StarringEvan McGuire
Brendan Gleeson
Christen Mooney
Mick Lally
Michael McGrath
Liam Hourican
Paul Tylak
Paul Young
Music byBruno Coulais
Edited byFabienne 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 byGébéka Films (France)
Kinepolis Film Distribution (Belgium)
StudioCanal (Ireland)
Release date
  • 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
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$739,454[2]

The Secret of Kells is a 2009 French-Belgian-Irish[3] animated fantasy film animated 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 directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, produced by Paul Young, Didier Brunner and Vivian Van Fleteren, written by Fabrice Ziolkowski, distributed by Gébéka Films, Kinepolis Film Distribution, StudioCanal and Buena Vista, edited by Fabienne Alvarez-Giro and music composed by Bruno Coulais and Kíla. It stars Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Christen Mooney, Mick Lally, Michael McGrath, Liam Hourican, Paul Tylak and Paul Young. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but it lost to Up.[4][5]


Brendan, a young, curious, and idealistic boy living in the tightly knit community at the Abbey of Kells, is under the strict care of his stern uncle, Abbot Cellach. Cellach is obsessed with building a wall around the Abbey, in order to prevent Viking attacks.

Brendan is apprenticed in the scriptorium of the monastery. After listening to the other monks of the monastery talk about Brother Aidan, the creator of the Book of Iona, Brendan is curious about the mysterious illuminator and "the book that turns darkness into light" (the unfinished Book of Kells). Aidan arrives in Kells, accompanied by his white cat, Pangur Bán, after his own monastery is destroyed by a raid. After eavesdropping on a discussion between Cellach and Aidan, Brendan wanders to the scriptorium, where he finds the still-to-be-completed book. Pangur Bán guards the book, but when the cat sees that Brendan means no harm to the book, she accepts him. Aidan arrives and tells Brendan about the book.

Seeing Brendan as a suitable apprentice, Aidan sends Brendan, with Pangur Bán for company, into the woods to obtain gall nuts to make ink for the illumination of the book. However, Brendan is cornered by a hungry pack of wolves. He is saved by Aisling, the faerie from the beginning of the film. Although at first suspicious of Brendan's presence, Aisling slowly comes to accept him after he reveals his intentions of helping to create the book.

After a brief yet scary close encounter with Crom Cruach, a deity of death and destruction, of whom Aisling is deeply afraid, Brendan and Aisling return to the outskirts of the forest. She assures Brendan that he can come back and visit anytime he wants.

Upon his return home, Brendan is reprimanded by Cellach, who forbids him to leave the monastery again. However, Brendan continues to work with Aidan. Brendan learns that Aidan's work is endangered by the loss of the Eye of Colm Cille, a special magnifying lens captured from Crom Cruach. When Brendan tries to leave to visit Crom's cave to obtain another Eye, he is confined to his room by Cellach.

Pangur Bán and Aisling set Brendan free. After running into the heart of the woods, Brendan tells Aisling of his objective. A shocked Aisling begs him not to confront the dark deity, warning that Crom Cruach will kill him just as it killed the rest of her people. But Brendan persuades Aisling to assist him, by stating that if he does not retrieve the Eye, the book will never be completed. Convinced, Aisling helps Brendan enter Crom's cave, nearly getting killed in the process. Brendan duels with Crom and seizes the Eye, blinding Crom and causing the dark deity to consume itself, becoming an ouroboros. Upon returning to the cave entrance, Brendan finds the forest covered in white flowers.

Brendan returns to the abbey and continues to assist Aidan in secret. The brothers of the monastery excitedly watch the two create the book. In a fit of frustration, Cellach locks Brendan and Aidan in the scriptorium, but not before ripping out a page that Brendan had created for the book. Shortly thereafter, the Vikings invade Kells, and Cellach watches in horror as they breach the wooden gate. Brendan and Aidan manage to escape by using smoke from the gall berry ink, confusing the raiders when they burst into the scriptorium. Meanwhile, the wooden staircase to the central tower of the abbey becomes overloaded with panicked villagers and collapses. The village and abbey below is set ablaze.

Cellach is wounded by an arrow, and stabbed by a Viking raider; Brendan is dragged away by the frantic Aidan, who tells him that there is nothing that he can do. After they leave, Cellach, having survived the attack, sees the burning remains of the scriptorium. The central tower of the abbey is left untouched by the Vikings, leaving the few villagers and Brother Tang to survive the carnage. Thinking that his nephew has perished, Cellach falls into a deep despair.

While running through the woods, Brendan and Aidan are confronted by the raiders, and the Viking leader takes the book's bejeweled cover and scatters the pages. Before two Viking raiders can kill Brendan and Aidan, Aisling's black wolves attack the Vikings, saving the two refugees. Brendan and Aidan gather the pages and depart. Cellach and the remaining villagers take refuge in the monastery.

Brendan and Aidan travel across Ireland, and, after many years, complete the book. Aidan, after entrusting the book to Brendan, dies. The now-adult Brendan returns to Kells with Pangur Bán, guided by Aisling (in wolf form). The aged guilt-ridden Cellach is nearing death. Brendan and the abbot happily reunite, and Brendan displays the complete Book of Kells to his uncle. The film closes with an animation rendition of some of the illuminated pages of the book.


  • Evan McGuire as Brendan, a bright, imaginative and curious 12-year-old who leads a sheltered life.
  • Brendan Gleeson as Abbot Cellach, a former illuminator who now superintends a wall to protect the Abbey of Kells from invasion.
  • Christen Mooney as Aisling, a forest fairy, related to the Tuatha De Danann, living in the woods outside of Kells.
  • Mick Lally as Brother Aidan, a master illuminator
  • Michael McGrath as Adult Brendan
  • Liam Hourican as Brothers Tang and Leonardo, two illuminators from Asia and Italy, respectively.
  • Paul Tylak as Brother Assoua, an illuminator from Africa.
  • Paul Young as Brother Square, an illuminator from England.


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;[6] examples include its inclusion of Crom Cruach, a pre-Christian Irish deity[7] 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.[8] The Secret of Kells began development in 1999, when Tomm Moore and several of his friends were inspired by Richard Williams's The Thief and the Cobbler, Disney's Mulan and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, which based their visual style on the respective traditional art of the cultures featured in each film. They decided to do something similar to Studio Ghibli's films but with Irish art.[9] Tomm Moore explained that the visual style was inspired by Celtic and medieval art, being 'flat, with false perspective and lots of colour'. Even the clean up was planned to 'obtain the stained glass effect of thicker outer lines'.[10]


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[11] 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."[11] 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 pays homage to Celtic culture and design, together with techniques and motifs that evoke Matisse, Miyazaki and the minimalist cartoons of UPA".[12]

Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News said The Secret of Kells "is noteworthy for its unique, ornate design, its moments of silence... and gorgeous music".[13] Leslie Felperin of Variety Magazine praised the film as "Refreshingly different" and "absolutely luscious to behold".[14] Jeremy W. Kaufmann of Ain't It Cool News called its animation "absolutely brilliant",[15] and reviewers at Starlog called it "one of the greatest hand drawn independent animated movies of all time".[16] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Charles Solomon ranked the film the tenth best anime on his "Top 10".[17] On Oscar weekend it was released at the IFC Center in New York City and was then released in other venues and cities in the United States. As of 11 July 2010, it has grossed $667,441.[18]



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. ^ a b "The Secret of Kells (2010)". Box Office Mojo. 2010-03-05. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
  3. ^ Lumenick, Lou (5 March 2010). "A visual feast – just add Celt". New York Pos. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Ryzik, Melena (2 March 2010). "An Indie Takes on Animation's Big Boys". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010.
  6. ^ Hartl, John (13 May 2010). "'The Secret of Kells': An enchanting tale of a boy in barbarian times". Seattle Times.
  7. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (4 March 2010). ""The Secret of Kells": Oscar's dazzling Irish surprise".
  8. ^ "The Secret of Kells: the circle and the serpent". Basement Garden. 1 June 2010. Archived from the original on 12 August 2011.
  9. ^ Cohen, Karl (16 March 2010). "The Secret of Kells – What is this Remarkable Animated Feature?". Animation World Network. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012.
  10. ^ Bendazzi, Giannalberto (2015). Animation: A World History. Boca Racton, FL: CRC Press. p. 93.
  11. ^ a b "The Secret of Kells Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
  12. ^ "Crash of 'The Titans'". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ Thompson, Gary. "An animated gem" at, 18 March 2010. Accessed 9 April 2016
  14. ^ Felperin, Leslie (25 February 2009). "Brendan and the Secret of Kells". Variety Magazine. Retrieved 2 December 2009.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Koller, Cameron and Riley (2 December 2009). "The Secret of Kells: The Little Movie That Should". Retrieved 4 December 2009.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Solomon, Charles (December 21, 2010). "Anime Top 10: 'Evangelion,' 'Fullmetal Alchemist' lead 2010′s best". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 15, 2014.
  18. ^ Secret of Kells at Box Office Mojo
  19. ^ The Secret of Kells wins Grand Prize at SICAF official site
  20. ^ A 9. Kecskeméti Animációs Filmfesztivál és a 6. Nemzetközi Animációs Fesztivál díjai (English: "Awards"). Kecskeméti Animáció Film Fesztivál. 2009.
  21. ^ "IFTA Winners 2010". 23 February 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  22. ^ "Aardman sweeps board at British Animation Awards". 8 April 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2010.


  • Keazor, Henry, "Stil, Symbol, Struktur: ‘The Tree of Life’ als Motiv im Film", in: Der achte Tag. Naturbilder in der Kunst des 21. Jahrhunderts, edited by Frank Fehrenbach and Matthias Krüger, Berlin/Boston 2016, p. 163 - 200

External links[edit]