FEW HAD HEARD of The Secret of Kells until it showed up at the Oscars a few months ago, on the ballot for Best Animated Feature alongside Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Princess and the Frog. Kells ended up losing the Oscar to Up, but now—with an unheralded, unexpected release in Portland at the Fox Tower—we can finally get a chance to see what, exactly, Kells is. The answer: something gorgeous.
With stunning blend of Celtic mythology, history, and jaw-droppingly beautiful animation, Kells begins in the Irish Abbey of Kells—an abbey that, thanks to Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), is walled in, blocked off from the verdant forest outside. The wall was built to keep out pillaging Vikings; afraid for his safety, the Abbot forbids his nephew, Brendan (Evan McGuire), to venture beyond the gates. Instead, young Brendan's left to assist with creating illuminated manuscripts.
But when the revered Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives at Kells, he brings with him the most beautiful illuminated manuscript of all: the legendary Book of Kells. Only problem? Aidan needs Brendan's help to finish the manuscript, which requires Brendan to leave the abbey. Venturing into the forest, Brendan meets a tough, charming wolfgirl-slash-fairy, Aisling (Christen Mooney), who shows him the world beyond.
With graceful, emotional animation, brilliant character designs, and a watercolor-dappled visual style that lands somewhere between Saul Bass and Genndy Tartakovsky, every frame of Kells is amazing to look at—but it's the film's humor, heart, and melancholy that makes it really work. Stuff this good—this exhilarating, sweet, clever, poignant—simply doesn't come along very often. Haven't heard of Kells until the Oscars? Haven't heard of it until now? Doesn't matter. Go, and see it on a big screen while you can.