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Screens & Tech

Critic' Pick: 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore'

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

It is a shame that the short film category at the Oscars is so underrated. Some of the best films frequently come from this group, and this year is no different. In the animation department, I could go on describing the merits of the edgy/creepy A Morning Stroll (the same scene involving two men and a chicken is shown taking place in 1959, 2009, and 2059) or Pixar's sweet and visually stunning La Luna. The documentaries' favorite, Incident in New Baghdad, is a disturbing inside look at the infamous 2007 secret video leaked to the world by Wikileaks. And in the live-action category The Shore is a touching take on friendship, love, and forgiveness.

But none of these films are as whole and powerful as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. That is my horse, a moving, sweet homage to the rejuvenating power of books, reading, and writing. Lessmore resembles Buster Keaton, and the movie even borrows from Keaton's own gags of Steamboat Bill, Jr. to the point of recreating some of Keaton's dance steps and the unique way in which he used to fall on his head. Yet, this magic movie is a true original with holding power.

In less than 15 minutes Flying Books manages to dissect all that is great about our relationship with books. But this is a lot more than a speech about how good it is to read: it is a silent film full of words that take us to silence and silences that take us to words. It demonstrates how a book on the shelf is nothing; only when we engage the book does it come alive, bringing us along. The fact that the film has been released in an era where attention spans seem to be at an all-time low, where text messaging and tweeting threaten to replace actual reading, is a bonus triumph for award-winning illustrator/author/filmmaker William Joyce and co-director Brandon Oldenburg, both veterans of the animation department of Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks and now partners at Moonbot Studios.

Near the end of the film, you see Morris Lessmore writing, "I seldom understand things." Seconds later he adds: "If life is enjoyable, does it have to make sense?"

Flying Books is a fantasy rooted on a simple fact: books matter — and make sense — to the degree to which we're willing to open ourselves to them. But the short doesn't ask for much. All you need is to keep your eyes and heart open and allow this hurricane of a movie to fill you with joy. It will all make sense at the end. After all, Morris Lessmore is each one of us.

★★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (animation)
Dir. William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg; writ. William Joyce. (14:46')

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