The Secret of KellsThis morning's list of Oscar nominations had more than a few surprises, but no acknowledgment threw Oscar prognosticators for a bigger loop than the inclusion of 'The Secret of Kells' for Best Animated Feature.

How does a movie that no one has seen get nominated in a major Oscars category? I'm not an Academy member, but I did see the film with my children at the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival last year. The humor in 'Kells' is gentle, and some of its hero's adventures are frighteningly fantastical -- it's not for kids who are squirmy or squeamish. My kids are both, and for that reason, we didn't make it to the end of 'Kells.' The movie's ideal audience seems to be preteen and older (and it doesn't hurt to be Irish!).

Certainly among animation insiders, 'Kells' has made an impression. It's already up for a Best Feature Annie Award, considered the Oscars of animation. Yet it wasn't on the radar of Oscar watchers, many of whom thought 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' and/or 'Ponyo' would nab a spot. 'Meatballs' was a hit, while 'Ponyo' was created by the revered former Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki ('Spirited Away,' 'Princess Mononoke'). The Secret of KellsThis morning's list of Oscar nominations had more than a few surprises, but no acknowledgment threw Oscar prognosticators for a bigger loop than the inclusion of 'The Secret of Kells' for Best Animated Feature.

How does a movie that no one has seen get nominated in a major Oscars category? I'm not an Academy member, but I did see the film with my children at the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival last year. The humor in 'Kells' is gentle, and some of its hero's adventures are frighteningly fantastical -- it's not for kids who are squirmy or squeamish. My kids are both, and for that reason, we didn't make it to the end of 'Kells.' The movie's ideal audience seems to be preteen and older (and it doesn't hurt to be Irish!)

Certainly among animation insiders, 'Kells' has made an impression. It's already up for a Best Feature Annie Award, considered the Oscars of animation. Yet it wasn't on the radar of Oscar watchers, many of whom thought 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' and/or 'Ponyo' would nab a spot. 'Meatballs' was a hit, while 'Ponyo' was created by the revered former Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki ('Spirited Away,' 'Princess Mononoke').

'Kells' refers to 'The Book of Kells,' the ancient Celtic religious text that dates back to 800 AD. The movie follows a young boy named Brendan, who lives among the monks working on the elaborate text. When Vikings threaten their village, the responsibility for the texts is suddenly in Brendan's hands. He finds the encouragement he needs from the monastery's abbot (voiced by Brendan Gleeson).

Among the movie's charms is Golden Globe winner Gleeson, who played an indelible Winston Churchill in 'Into the Storm.' Here, Gleeson turns on his full gorgeous brogue (for more of Gleeson's brogue, see 'In Bruges' -- also, uh, not for the kids). While the animation and storytelling could seem dated to youngsters fed 3-D on a weekly basis, the images evoke the artwork in the actual 'Book of Kells,' which is on display for tourists and scholars alike at Trinity College, Dublin.

What put 'Kells' in the golden company of 'Up' and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'? It could be that 'Kells' is the rare animated feature that is not only sending children a message about perseverance, but is also a lesson in ancient history. Though 'Kells' was seen at festivals and received a weeklong Oscar-qualifying run in Burbank last year, it is expected to hit more theaters in March.
CATEGORIES Hot Topic, Oscars