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Originally published Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'The Secret of Kells': An enchanting tale of a boy in barbarian times

"The Secret of Kells," a 2009 Oscar nominee for best animated feature, follows the tale of a boy, facing barbarian forces in medieval times, and a magical book.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Secret of Kells,' with the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney. Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, from a screenplay by Fabrice Ziolkowski. 75 minutes. Not rated; includes nightmarish sequences. Metro.

A surprise Oscar nominee for best animated feature of 2009, the Belgian-French-Irish coproduction "The Secret of Kells" is a breathtaking mixture of Celtic mythology and creative animation.

The images — sometimes as intricate as a jeweled watch, sometimes epic-scale in their shadowy depiction of barbarian forces (the Vikings are the bad guys) — generate an energy that carries the film for much of its 75- minute length.

The storyline — about a monk-in-training named Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire), who faces potential obliteration in an enchanted forest in medieval times — may sound familiar. But the writing-directing team freshens it with a series of distinctive visual touches.

Brendan's mentor, Aidan (Mick Lally), is introduced as a "master illuminator" who is in possession of a magical manuscript, "The Book of Kells," that may be the key to saving them. The book is "a beacon," written by mere mortals, Aidan points out, but it can help with recognizing miracles of faith.

Providing much of the comic relief is Brendan's uncle, the stick-in-the-mud Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). More helpful is Aisling (Christen Mooney), a fairy or "wolf-girl" who befriends Brendan and opens his eyes to the beauty of the forest.

"The Secret of Kells" is sometimes reminiscent of the nature-besotted fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away") and the film-noir impulses of the more recent DreamWorks production, "How to Train Your Dragon."

Brendan has nightmares that sometimes get the better of him. In one particularly gripping scene, he wakes up from a distressing dream in which runaway ink corrupts the pages of the book.

Later, dreams and reality blend in a way that may have you pinching yourself. Is this supposed to be a mirage or a real threat? The infectious score, including one song cowritten by co-director Tomm Moore, helps to keep you guessing.

John Hartl:

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