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Celtic Thunder

"Especially this year with the competition. We're just really excited to be on the list with those kinds of guys," Moore told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. "It's pretty surreal. It's great."

Moore's hand-drawn film, "The Secret of Kells," will compete against Hollywood's "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog" and "Up" for the best animated feature Oscar at Sunday's glitzy ceremony in Los Angeles.

Set in 9th century Ireland and steeped in Celtic lore, "Kells" is about how a little boy raised in an abbey realizes his destiny amidst the backdrop of a Viking invasion by helping to illustrate the famously gorgeous Book of Kells -- the real-life version of which is now on display in Dublin's Trinity College. The magical movie features the vocal talents of Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Evan McGuire and Christen Mooney, most of whom recorded their lines together in Ardmore Studios in Bray, Co. Wicklow. The film recently won the Irish Film and Television Award for best animation, while Moore was presented with a Rising Star prize. "Kells" has also proven a hit on the international film festival circuit.

"I've been really happy with the reaction to the film [outside of Ireland, as well as in it.] It's been amazing. We've been to France and Belgium. What's really bizarre to me is it's showing in Taiwan and Russia and Brazil and all sorts of places. It's just amazing because it's such an Irish film and that it's found an audience so far afield is fantastic," explained Moore, 33, who co-directed "Kells" with Nora Twomey from a story he developed.

"It's exciting now that American audiences might get to see it," added Moore, who is the nephew of well-known Northern Irish singer/songwriter Kieran Goss.

Despite the distinctly Irish flavor of the flick, its director noted there are some universal themes woven through it that contributed to its wild popularity.

"I had worked on the script for a long time on my own and then we worked with a French-American screenwriter Fabrice Ziolkowski. What he said was, 'Let's tease out what's universal about these Irish legends and this history that's universal to nearly every myth and legend,'" Moore recalled. "And [he helped us] find a hero's journey that everyone could relate to."

So, how are the folks back home reacting to the film's global success?

"It's mad!" Moore said. "I went to the Oscar luncheon last [month] and there were five of us from Ireland. Three of us went to college at Ballyfermot in Dublin. It was just amazing. There were 120 nominees at that luncheon and of the 120 there were five Irish animators, which I think is pretty amazing for a country of four million."

The other Irish nominees were Richard Baneham, who was part of the team who worked on the best picture nominee "Avatar"; Peter J. Devlin, who was nominated in the Best Sound Mixing category for "Star Trek"; and Darragh O'Connell and Nicky Phelan, who were nominated for their short film "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty."

Moore is the co-founder and creative director of the Cartoon Saloon, the company that developed and produced the IFTA winning animated TV series "Skunk Fu!" He said he hopes to start production soon on his next film, "The Song of the Sea."

"It's set in modern Ireland, but it's about a little selkie, which are folk-tale creatures that can be both people and seals. But she's the last selkie and she ends up in the city and has to find her way back to the sea," Moore said.

"The Secret of Kells" is slated to open March 5 at the IFC Center in New York, and at theaters in Boston and Philadelphia March 19. The release will expand April 2 to major U.S. markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and others, the film's distribution company said.

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