This little gem of a movie was practically unheard of until February 2nd, when the Academy nominated it for best animated feature.  I think I remembered my face dropping and speaking a very confused question about this film.  I went in search of the trailer shortly after that.

Then I decided, I must see this film.

The animation is excellent throughout.  It’s hard to pinpoint all of the different animation styles used in the film.  The main one is obviously traditional hand drawn.  Each character has a unique look to them that matches the time period the film is set in (9th century Ireland).  There is some use of CGI as well, mostly in some of the backgrounds, though the Vikings look CGI as well (but it’s really hard to tell with them, not that I’m complaining, they look appropriately menacing).  There is a sequence later with a monster that looks CGI’ed as well that looks fantastic.  Lastly, though I don’t think this is the last they used, there is a Flash media portion (at least that’s what I think it is) that is used mainly for back story, but also for great comedic effect.  There were times I felt my jaw dropping as how visually stunning the film was.  The only animator that has been able to do that before was Hayao Miyazaki (Pixar, probably, but I expect perfection every time with them and get it).  The team of animators that worked on this film created something special.

The story itself is simple enough, but the details are so complex at times that I was occasionally confused.  It’s not the fault of the creators of the film, but rather, it’s the history and lore they used in telling the story.  As I already mentioned, the story is set in 9th century Ireland.  It concerns Brendan, the nephew and apprentice to the Abbot Cellach.  Brendan is roughly twelve years old, and more concerned at times with investigating the world and enjoying life in general rather than helping with the building of the wall to protect the Abbey of Kells from the oncoming Northmen (the aforementioned Vikings).  They encounter Brother Aidan, a master illuminator who had just escaped from the island of Iona with his cat (the name I can’t find, but he has two different colored eyes and has a very affecting personality) and an important book, called the Book of Iona.  Aidan is still writing the book, but is in need of help in finishing the book.  Brendan is all too willing to help out, but he also has his fears to overcome that prevents him from helping as much as he could.

There is also a character Brendan encounters when he ventures out into the woods: Aisling (which sounds somewhat close to “Ashley”), a fairy with body length white hair and a curious transformation.  Being a fairy, she moves unlike anyone, appearing and reappearing in random places, and also being able to climb surfaces without having to grip them at all.  At first unwilling to trust Brendan, she eventually enjoys his company, willing to learn from him as much as he is willing to learn from her.  She’s visually inventive herself with her overall look.

The rest of the plot I’m sure you can gather from the trailer and what I laid out above.  The confusing part that I mentioned before involves the mixing of Celtic myth and culture with early Christian beliefs.  My confusion is mainly due to my lack of knowledge involving Celtic myth (which, because of this movie, I’m wanting to learn more).  The two are handled nicely enough: Kells is established as an early Christian community, with the Abbots and Brothers that everyone calls each other, and the references to prayer, both spoken and in hand language.  The forest that surrounds Kells is heavy in Celtic myth, primarily with Aisling, but also with a monster that fulfills one of the fears that Brendan must overcome.  The Book of Iona is also part of Celtic myth, but as the story becomes more focused on the completion of the book, the distinction between Celtic and Christianity blurs and mixes together seamlessly, creating a rich and rewarding – and wholly unique – storyline.  The ending drags a little bit, but it barely blemishes this all-too-impressive film.

Brilliant.  Try to see it in theaters (it is downtown at the Bourse right now, which looks like it’ll have it next week as well), but definitely rent it when it comes out on DVD as well.  No regrets on this one.