From the archive: The other silent film to win an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards (2012)

July 18, 2012

Speaking of silent film, speaking of authors of books for kids, and speaking of the Oscars – 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, 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.

For those unfamiliar with his work, William 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, includingToy 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. And for a local connection, Joyce was also responsible for the art which adorns the cover of Michael Chabon’s 2002 young adult novel, Summerland.

There is an air of wistfulness and a sense of nostalgia in Joyce’s work, which is one reason I find it 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.”

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

As Joyce’s website states, the film was also 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 silent era’s great stars, Buster Keaton (with a touch of Chaplin I might suggest). 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 Lessmoreis set to be released as a motionless picture book in July by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

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