A Brief Review of “The Secret of Kells” (And an Even Briefer Review of “Alice and Wonderland”) April 8, 2010
My son dragged Roberta and me to see a new animated movie called The Secret of Kells, and I was glad he did. The style of this animated film is what you might expect if Hayao Miyazaki had a. Been Irish, and b. had studied under both Eyvind Earle and the UPA. (If you don’t know what Eyvind Earle and the UPA are, you should study more about animation and stop being such a layman.) The artistry is wonderful. The worldview is, it must be said, modern European neopaganism trying to make sense of its Christian heritage. There were teams of people from Ireland, France, Flanders, Wallonia, and even Italy working on this film. The Book of Iona, which becomes the Book of Kells, is viewed as magic – no one seems to care about the actual text, which I think were the New Testament Gospels. In the movie it is partly saved by woodland fairies. The Norsemen are depicted something like orcs or Disney style demons – I suppose I should be offended, since I’m of Scandinavian descent! One of the most important plot lines is that the abbot of Kells is indifferent to the book, which has come to Kells with a refugee fleeing Iona. The abbot puts all his trust in his wooden walls around his fortified community, not in God or Jesus (whose names are never mentioned anyway in the whole movie). But the Norse-demons break through all the walls and doors anyway, and his faith proves misplaced. They leave, not because they are defeated but because they are more interested in plunder than conquest. (In actual fact the real Norsemen founded Dublin and several other of Ireland’s coastal cities, and settled a large chunk of central-eastern England.)
The Book of Kells is a spectacular movie, on the level of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, and I was glad I saw it. Alice in Wonderland was a bit of a disappointment. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and the other actors were excellent, but the whole movie is trying to do a Harry Potter in Wonderland. Alice as a young woman is called back to Wonderland to slay the Jabberwock, who in Part II of the book was a character in an embedded poem and slain by a male hero. The thing doesn’t work. Lewis Carroll’s original Wonderland, in both Parts I and II, was a little more like Gilbert and Sullivan on acid than like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or anything resembling them. I still like the book better than either the Disney version of 55 years ago or this; and I like Part II, Through the Looking Glass, a little better than Part I; I think because it has a chessboard in it and Alice has a clear goal – the queenship.