Keith Staskiewicz
February 05, 2010 AT 05:00 AM EST

Never heard of The Secret of Kells, the film that slipped into the Best Animated Feature race virtually unnoticed and finds itself up against big-name competitors like Up, The Princess and the Frog, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Coraline? You’re not alone. The mostly hand-drawn Irish indie, a fable about a boy’s search for rare berries needed to make the ink to complete the legendary Book of Kells, sneaked its way past such better-known ‘toons as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 9, and Ponyo. Though it does feature one celebrity voice — 28 Days Later‘s Brendan Gleeson as an abbot — Secret was far from a big-budget release. The roughly $8 million film’s U.S. distributor, GKIDS, started its Oscar campaign only three days before the deadline, opened it for a one-week qualifying run in a single Los Angeles theater, and spent practically nothing to promote it (aside from setting up Academy screenings and sending voters DVDs). ”We decided we weren’t going to spend one penny on advertising,” says GKIDS president Eric Beckman. ”Amazingly, it worked.” The company currently plans to open the film in Boston on March 19, before expanding to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, among other cities, on April 2. One thing’s for sure: The Secret of Kells won’t be a secret much longer.

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