You have to appreciate the chutzpah and confidence, if not the common sense, of the producers of the glorious animated tale The Secret of Kells.
They shoehorned it into Oscar contention before giving it a U.S. release, perhaps misjudging their chances against the Pixar steamroller Up. If they had waited a year, they might have had a real shot at an Oscar and the box-office attention that earns.
The Irish-made Secret of Kells looks nothing like its fellow Oscar nominees from this past year. A 2D, mostly hand-drawn Irish history lesson and fairy tale, it's a magical blend of the magical and the gloriously trippy.
Characters that look as if they've been torn from the pages of the famous "illuminated" medieval manuscript The Book of Kells frantically build a wall around their village and the abbey at its center. They're egged on by a stern and practical abbot (voiced by Brendan Gleeson).
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"It is with the strength of our walls that they will come to trust the strength of our faith," he says.
But the not-quite-teenage boy in the abbot's charge, Brendan (Evan McGuire), wonders what lies outside those walls, aside from the feared Vikings, whom the walls are meant to keep out.
When a legendary illustrator joins the abbey's scriptorium — where books are copied and illustrated, thus saving the written word and Western civilization — young Brendan risks the terrors of the forest (wolves, satanic beasties) to fetch berries used for ink. That's where he meets the sprite, Aisling (Christen Mooney). Soon Brendan and Aisling will fall under the spell of that one all-important book, which can "turn darkness into light."
The book, of course, is that stunningly illustrated, 1,200-year-old, hand-made copy of the New Testament. And no, it's not every cartoon that gives you a taste of Dark Ages' history plus fairies, forest beasts and stylized Norsemen.
Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey's vivid allegory about what survives, what's truly important and the ignorant impotence of each generation's "barbarians" is the most original animated film since Toy Story, a real eye-opening and mind-expanding experience and glorious entertainment. Pity about the Oscar, though. It would have been a real contender this year.