I love that Brother Aidan's cat in The Secret of Kells is called Pangur Bán. In the eighth or ninth century, an unknown Irish monk, in a playful respite from his normal work, penned in the margins of a Latin New Testament manuscript an affectionate ode to the mouse-catching prowess of his white cat. That monk would surely be astounded to find Pangur Bán again commemorated in pen and ink over a millennium later, romping across backgrounds that look at times like the decorative work of the monks themselves, brought to cinematic life.
Ornate scrollwork, endless knots, spirals, plaits, circles, arches, panels, and decorative borders dance and frolic throughout The Secret of Kells. Developed at the Irish media company Cartoon Saloon by co-founder Tomm Moore, who wrote the story with screenwriter Fabrice Ziolkowski and directed with Nora Twomey, the animated indie weds the design sensibilities of traditional Insular art with the stylized simplicity of such contemporary retro animation as "Samurai Jack" or "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Astonishingly, the breathtakingly beautiful work (witness the dappled light playing over the hero as he walks through the forest) is nearly all hand-drawn, with very little computer animation.
A similar blend of simplicity and elaboration animates the narrative, told from the perspective of young Brendan (Evan McGuire), an orphan living at the abbey of Kells under the sternly watchful eye of Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson), Brendan's uncle. Brendan's world is half Christian, half Faerie, with barbaric invaders, woodland sprites and dark gods coexisting, at least for the time being, with the work of the monks—works like "the book that turns darkness into light," according to the opening ...1