With this year's Oscar nominations devoid of any real surprises, one of the few dark-horse candidates to sneak in was the animated film "The Illusionist."

With this year's Oscar nominations devoid of any real surprises, one of the few dark-horse candidates to sneak in was the animated film "The Illusionist."

Snagging a spot over heavier hitters like Disney's "Tangled" or "Despicable Me," it's one of the few nominated movies that was off the radar. And that's good, because it deserves the attention.

An old-school magician finds his act being overwhelmed by a modern tide in 1959 Paris.

In search of work, he travels to perform a show in Scotland, where he meets a young girl who views his illusions with warm wonder, beginning a friendship that spans the years.

Notably, "The Illusionist" contains almost no dialogue. Most speech is vaguely recognizable gibberish, with the focus squarely on the visuals.

It's almost impossible to resist the lush and whimsical hand-drawn animation - the style already feels like a throwback, a refreshing respite from even the warm and organic CGI Pixar has perfected.

It's a signature look for director Sylvain Chomet, who was also an Oscar nominee for 2003's "The Triplets of Belleville." Here he's lovingly adapted a script by late French comedic actor Jacques Tati, with Tati's mannerisms mimicked by The Illusionist himself.

The languid pace won't be for everyone, and despite no real objectionable content, this is a cartoon for grown-ups.

But even if it's only Oscar buzz that gets you to the theater, you'll leave with an exquisitely unique experience.