The conventional wisdom in the movie business holds that 2-D animation is headed for the junkyard of history. Ironically, the best 2-D features to come along in recent years have all taken inspiration from pre-Renaissance art and design: for Michel Ocelot’s Azur & Asmar
(2006) that art was Islamic, for Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues
(2008) it was Hindu, and for Tomm Moore’s The Secret of Kells
(2009) it's the Celtic illumination of the Book of Kells. Made for a relatively paltry $8 million, this Irish feature won’t impress anyone with its character drawings, which aren’t much more detailed or emotionally nuanced than you’d find in a 60s holiday special by Rankin/Bass. But the backgrounds are another story. As richly hued and ornately patterned as their ninth-century models, they remind us what stunning imagery once resulted from nothing more than a pen and all the time in the world.