A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret of Kells is an Oscar-nominated animated movie that's 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 SECRET OF KELLS 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 in 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Brendan as a hero. In what way is Brendan's adventure in The Secret of Kells 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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.