The Secret of Kells Movie Poster Image

The Secret of Kells



Magical animated adventure is intense but beautiful.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 75 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Although Brendan disobeys his uncle, he is ultimately trying to do what's best for Kells by preserving the famous illuminated manuscript that Aidan needs his help to finish. Brendan believes God has granted him a gift to illustrate the manuscript, and he follows this gift. But he also learns that what his abbot uncle called "pagan nonsense" wasn't nonsense at all; there is magic in the woods, in the form of a beautiful fairy girl and an underground monster. Some families might not be comfortable with the depiction of pagan motifs and characters along with strong spiritual/Christian themes.

Positive role models

Brendan learns to practice his gift, collaborate with Aidan, ask for help when it's needed, and act bravely when he thinks his friend is in danger. Aisling could have been cruel to Brendan when he wandered into the woods, but instead she helps him, befriends him, and teaches him the wonders of the woods. Brother Aidan nurtures Brendan's talent and tells him it's a gift he must use.


The tone of the animation can turn dark, gloomy, and downright scary in parts, especially during the scenes when the Vikings are shown with their axes drawn or when a pack of red-eyed wolves circle a boy in the woods. The Barbarian invaders mercilessly set fire to a whole town and bring their axes down to kill the fleeing villagers. Needless to say, the Barbarians are frightening and murderous. The sequence with the pagan creature that haunts the woods is also intense. One character is shown near death after he has been speared, and other characters are presumed dead due to a fire.

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this Oscar-nominated animated movie is too intense for preschoolers and even young elementary school-aged kids. Steeped in Irish folklore, the movie includes scenes of Barbarian invaders sweeping through towns, terrorizing and killing people with their swords and axes as they go. There are also some frightening images of red-eyed, snarling wolves and an evil pagan serpent god. Some families might also be concerned with the tension between religion (the main characters are all brothers in an abbey) and paganism (depicted by a fairy and a monstrous creature in the woods). Mature kids old enough to handle the cartoon violence will learn about Irish legends, the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, and how every hero needs friends to succeed in his quest.

What's the story?

Set in medieval Ireland, the story follows 12-year-old Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire), who lives with his uncle Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), a monk who runs the Abbey of Kells. The abbott is focused on fortifying Kells from the imminent threat of a Viking invasion, and he expects all the brothers and his nephew, to work on defending the abbey. Life for Brendan changes dramatically when the renowned master illuminator Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives in Kells with an incomplete illuminated manuscript. Fascinated, Brendan begins to disobey his uncle to help Brother Aidan find the right ingredients for ink, and in time discovers that he himself has a talent for illumination. As the Barbarians advance closer and closer, Brendan embarks on a quest to find a special crystal needed to finish the book. With the help of a beautiful fairy/wolf girl named Aisling (Christen Mooney), Brendan enters a nearby enchanted forest, where he must face an ancient serpent god to find the crystal, return to the abbey and finish the sacred text.

Is it any good?


Director Tomm Moore and his co-director Nora Twomey have created a gorgeous world here. The animation mirrors the shimmery translucence found in illuminated texts like the one Brendan and Brother Aidan complete in the movie. There's a magical, ethereal quality that's quite perfect considering the otherworldly elements of Brendan's quest. Aisling, who can shift shapes from a white wolf to an alabaster-skinned girl with an enigmatic knowledge of the forest, is breathtakingly beautiful. And what's light and airy and hopeful in one scene can suddenly turn dark and ominous, particularly when the Vikings are depicted, with their red eyes and creepy masks. While all of the animation is impressive, it's the forest that's most affecting, with all of the greens, browns, and blues creating a lush place of wonder and mystery.

Although THE SECRET OF KELLS lost the Academy Award to the excellent Up, its nomination should ensure that it remains a secret gem no more. Led by the young actors McGuire and Mooney, the voice cast is terrific. Gleeson (In Bruges, Gangs of New York) is powerful as the single-minded abbott who sees no reason Brendan should waste his time on the book when raiders are on their way. Lally and McGuire sweetly capture the important mentor-hero relationship that's essential to every great journey. Like Obi-Wan and Luke or Dumbledore and Harry, Brother Aidan and Brendan's friendship is the catalyst for Brendan's self discovery. He's not just the Abbey's errand boy, he's a master illuminator in the making, and he will not let anything or anyone stop him from using his gifts.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Brendan as a hero. In what way is Brendan's adventure similar to other fictional quests? Who are his helpers, his mentors, his nemeses?

  • Brendan disobeys his uncle, the abbott, to work with Brother Aidan on the book. Is his disobedience warranted? What would've happened if Brendan had listened? When is it OK to disobey?

  • What is the significance of Brendan's return to Kells? Why is the completed book renamed?

  • Kids: Did this movie make you want to learn more about Irish culture or Celtic legends?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 19, 2010
DVD/Streaming release date:October 5, 2010
Cast:Brendan Gleeson, Christen Mooney, Evan McGuire, Mick Lally
Director:Tomm Moore
Genre:Family and Kids
Run time:75 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Parent Written byadriennemarie April 1, 2010
I would highly recommend this beautiful movie. My children (8, 5 and an 8 year old friend) were entranced and drawn in. They loved Brendan's courage in defying the Abbott to learn caligraphy and gathering the materials needed to learn the craft. At the same time, they understood the Abbott was trying to protect Brendan and loved him. The intricacy of the artwork fascinated them and led us to look at the Book of Kells online. The Norse invasion may frighten some children (went over the head of my 5 year old, troubled my 8 year old), but you can prepare children in advance by providing the historical context in advance. The music is more intimidating than the imagery, which is fairly abstract.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 5 and 8 year old Written byAppleNell December 23, 2010

Unusual and Stunning Animation Married to a Fascinating Tale

If, like me, you have wearied of a steady diet of Pixar and Disney animation, you will be intruiged and dazzled by "The Secret of Kells." The movie is visually astounding, but not in any of the usual ways. Much of the animation reminded me of the Cartoon Network's "Star Wars the Clone Wars" series, which itself is reminiscent of series like "Speed Racer." With "Kells," however, stylized simplicity becomes quite simply magical, and a vehicle capable carrying a fascinating and true story/legend forward. And the movie is remarkably true to what is known and passed down about The Book of Kells (a real text, now housed at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland). Be aware, that this faithfulness to story does mean there are harsh (though, again, stylized) depections of the Viking raids upon the Celtic settlements. This was scary for both my five and eight year olds; yet they stuck with the movie to the end. I had a great conversation with the older child afterwards about why the Vikings were shown as being inhuman (think the Huns from Mulan, except a step further), in which we reached the conclusion that it was because they chose violence and showed no mercy. I do want to note that the ending of the movie is blatantly religious, although not offensively (in the sense of proselytizing or judgement) so. Even if your family is not religious, however, "The Secret of Kells" could serve as fascinating fodder for a conversation about belief, fanaticism, and --oh yeah-- fairies.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 7 and 10 year old Written byMattmchugh February 5, 2011

Beautiful animated film threaded through with Irish art and history

I absolutely loved this movie. In a era of hyper-detailed 3D computer imagery, it's highly stylized hand-drawn animation is an old-school wonder to behold. Celtic motifs are incorporated throughout the visuals, an appropriate nod to its core subject matter: the creation of the greatest Irish illuminated manuscript, the real Book of Kells. Beyond its gorgeous artistry, the story is classic coming-of-age as a 12-year old boy in an 8th century Irish monastery becomes apprentice to a master illustrator against the wishes of his stern uncle, who can think only of defending against marauding Vikings. Strung through it is a subtle theme of a world moving from pagan to Christian beliefs -- with elements that will seem simply fantasy to kids, but to adults, a sly view of the turning of history. There's a Viking attack that is a bit intense, though it's depicted mostly with shadowy outlines than real violence. I don't think most kinds over 8 would any trouble with it; younger ones, just be sure they're not too sensitive. The consequences are honest (not every one survives) but those that do preserve art and culture in a way that is truly touching. All in all, I found this a wonderful movie and my kids (10 and 7) were riveted. It's even prompted discussions about the real Book of Kells and the history of illuminated manuscripts. Can't ask much more from a cartoon.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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