Nominated for an Oscar, the animated Secret of Kells came out of nowhere—an enchantingly old-fashioned Irish upstart about a medieval boy monk who dreams of illuminating sacred books that tucked itself into a juicy lineup of Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Up. Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) is a carrot-topped lad possessing more imaginative brio than can be contained by the cloistered life he leads under the sternly overprotective eye of his disillusioned uncle, the Abbott (Brendan Gleeson). A peppier old mentor (Mick Lally) dispatches Brendan on a character-building journey through a forest full of shape-shifting menace, protected by one of those Irish elf-girls who doubles as a helpful white wolf in the struggle against marauding Norsemen. Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, this mostly hand-drawn film is full of reverence for the power of the word, and also intoxicated with colors, shapes, and patterns derived from medieval art, combining to form an exquisitely etched riot that evokes the gaudy abandon of Klimt. The sensibility leans more to the Brothers Grimm than Team Disney: The only uplift we're offered is the sight of a boy tripping out on adventure. Brendan couldn't care less about the Mouse House's great god Self-Esteem—he's too busy becoming competent, which is the same thing as growing up.
Not only cool to watch, Kells will make your kids want to read, too.
Runs at Metro, Fri., May 14–Wed., May 12. Not rated. 80 minutes.