April 23, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Secret of Kells' -- GRADE: C

Review: "The Secret of Kells" lacks magical spark

A young monk wrestles with a monster in "The Secret of Kells." (Gebeka Films)

There's a simplicity to "The Secret of Kells" that some will find refreshing, while others may find it too limited.

"The Secret of Kells" tells the Irish legend behind an elaborately illustrated manuscript with the gospels of the new testament, currently housed at Trinity College in Dublin.

As the film has it, a master illustrator brought the book to the village when Ireland was under constant attack by Vikings. A boy monk there named Brendan (Evan McGuire) risks everything, including the wrath of his uncle, the Abbott (Brendan Gleeson), to make sure the book is completed and kept safe. Somehow this leads him to wander in a nearby forest, where he befriends the fairy Aisling (Christen Mooney) and has to wrestle a crystal from a weird monster underground in an explosion of surreal graphics.

The Oscar-nominated animation here runs counter to the computer-smooth work that's become the modern standard, with colors over black-line facial expressions, certain figures working as little more than haunting shadows and landscapes veering from idyllic greens to stark seas.

The legend itself likely takes on some impact with familiarity; coming to it stark cold, the story seems to just wander about for a while looking for a great spark that never really comes. In the end, the film is about a magical book, but you never really have a sense of what makes the book magical.