Did you know that The Artist wasn't the only silent film to take home an Academy Award at this year's Oscars? The other was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. It took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short.
Not strictly a silent film -- just as The Artist has sound effects and a musical score -- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an animated motion picture without dialogue. And though not a talkie, it does have plenty of words, including those on the pages of flying books which help advance the story. If you haven't seen this charming 15 minute work, check it out below.
For those unfamiliar with his work, Joyce is much beloved author and illustrator with dozens of picture books to his credit. He is the author of George Shrinks (1985), Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo (1988), A Day with Wilbur Robinson (1990), Santa Calls (1993) and other popular books for young people. Joyce has also had his hand in films, including Toy Story (1995) and Buddy (1997), as well as an Emmy award winning television series, Rolie Polie Olie (1998-2006), which was based on his series of books of the same name.
There is an air of wistfulness and a sense of nostalgia in Joyce's work, which is one reason it is so appealing. His style recalls the work of earlier artists and illustrators. On his website, Joyce states the idea for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was inspired by a friend and mentor, "Bill Morris, a lover of books and a grand old gentleman of children's book publishing."
As Joyce's website also states, the film was inspired in equal part by "Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz and a love for books." The film's title character was modeled after one of the major stars of the silent era, Buster Keaton (with a touch of Chaplin no doubt). Numerous bits from Joyce's film also call to mind situations and scenes from Keaton films, especially the storm scenes in Steamboat Bill, Jr. Using a variety of techniques, including filmed miniatures, stop motion, 2D and 3D animation, Joyce and co-director Oldenburg have created an appealing hybrid style that, according to Joyce's website, "harkens back to silent films and MGM Technicolor musicals."
More than a year in the making, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is the first film from Moonbot Studios. The film was released in February 2011 in conjunction with the launch of the studio itself. After its release, Moonbot unveiled an interactive iPad App version of the story which has received widespread praise as a ground-breaking leap forward in storytelling on the iPad.
And just in case you were wondering, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is set to be released as a motionless picture book in July by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress's films around the world. In 2010 for the Huffington Post, he reviewed Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks, by Jan Wahl. A few years earlier, in 2005, Joyce collaborated with Wahl on Humphrey's Bear.