The Secret of Kells (2009)

Not the usual Disney fare…

Directed by: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Written by: Tomm Moore, Fabrice Ziolkowski
Starring: Even McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally

Irish history and folklore are so entwined many scholars say it’s impossible to separate one from the other. Even more would argue that doing so misses the point. Myths of forest-dwelling fairies, giants, and elves have informed Celtic culture as much as any war, king, or Saint. What’s “real” depends on how much or how little you’re willing to imagine.

This philosophy is beautifully represented in 2009’s The Secret of Kells.

Set during the Dark Ages, the story follows a young boy, Brendan, who receives an ancient book from a visiting holy man. The magical text sparks Brendan’s imagination and natural talent for art but becomes a source of tension between him and his uncle, Abbot Cellach (voiced by Brendan Gleeson). The Abbot believes fanciful books a waste of time in the face of an imminent Viking attack and that building a wall, not childish drawings, should be the abbey’s first priority. But Brendan disagrees and, with the help of a mysterious woodland-fairy named Aisling, resolves to finish the book as the enemy gathers at the gate.


Parts of the story are real. Brendan’s text, the millennia-old Book of Kells, exists today and its artful pages are one of Ireland’s beloved national treasures. The story of Brendan, Aisling, and the Abboy, however, are fabrications of script writers Tomm Moore and Fabrice Ziolkowski. But like any Irish myth, separating fact and fiction isn’t the point. The Secret of Kells embodies bigger ideas: enlightenment versus barbarianism, Christianity versus Paganism, and wealth versus knowledge.

The Secret of Kells garnered acclaim internationally but a strong showing of Hollywood animation (Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Up came out the same year) pushed it under the radar here at home. However, its uniquely Irish styling, hauntingly beautiful score, and willingness to slip off the kid-gloves makes it a must-watch for anyone tired of the usual Disney/Dreamworks affair.

Available on Netflix (US), Amazon Instant, Vudu, and Blu-ray.

By Justin Rawana

Each week, Step On magazine writers make a recommendation  (or two) for your next movie night selected from various genres. 

Read more recent Movie Night recommendations herehere and here.