The critical consensus on Best Animated Feature-nominee The Secret of Kells goes something like this: Animators Moore and Twomey drew a beautiful film, and wrote a semi-suck-ass screenplay. There’s a good reason for that analysis: Movie critics are cynical, soulless, dried-out husks of the innocent, hopeful, dimple-cheeked children they once were. Don’t listen to them, parents.
Brendan (McGuire) is a young boy raised by his uncle in the Abbey of Kells, a 9th-century Irish monastery. His uncle, Abbot Cellach, is a strict, humorless guy obsessed with building a wall around the abbey. If all that doesn’t sound lame enough, guess why they’re building a wall — Vikings. That’s right, Vikings — those horn-helmeted rape machines that burned churches and barbecued babies in the flames — are totally headed for Kells; it’s not an if, but a when. Forget Hagar the Horrible: the horror these sadists must have inspired is very effectively conveyed via some awesomely stylized but pretty terrifying village-pillaging sequences that will most likely show up in your young children’s nightmares, but they might also offer some perspective when little Skyler’s sniveling about being the only third-grader in the world without a smart phone.
When the Vikings hit the Scottish island of Iona, expert illuminator Brother Aidan (Lally) flees to Kells, bringing his unfinished masterwork, a manuscript featuring almost-impossibly precise and ornate illustrations, with him. He takes on the worshipful Brendan as his assistant, to Uncle Cellach’s dismay. The Abbott was once an illuminator himself, but he’s since dismissed art as a waste of time when literal barbarians are at the gate. Yes, you can smell the movie’s message from a few minutes in, but — because the film’s loosely based on the history of the real, often-sacked Abbey of Kells — the “creativity conquers fear” message takes second place to “Vikings are really fucking scary.” Sometimes all you can do is grab your fancy little nerd book and run like hell. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson your kids can use. — Jeremy Martin