A Digital Ode to Printed Books

Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Internet is abuzz with a familiar combination of outrage, scorn, and satisfaction since the release of the official nominations for the highly coveted 84th Academy Awards on Monday. I am one of those individuals who care about this information primarily to feign pop culture literacy. This year, however, the announcement held a bit more meaning for me. Not only does Hugo lead the pack with 11 total Oscar nods (for all of you skeptics out there, you must see this movie), but also the Pixar spin-off Moonbot Studios snagged a richly deserved nomination for best animated short film with their phenomenal ode to storytelling, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

The film and its creator both stand out because of their unique fusion of old and new technology. Moonbot Studios remains a newcomer to the animated movie scene, and, like the vast majority of you, I had never heard of the company until last week. In fact, their Oscar-nominated film is the studio’s first project. However, given the expertise of founder William Joyce and a devoted, and expanding, following, it comes as no surprise that this tiny company is poised to make a big splash on not only the animated movie scene, but also the new frontier of digital storytelling through interactive e-books.

An implausible, seemingly contradictory combination of nostalgia and innovation make “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” a noteworthy, poignant creation. The creators openly celebrate traditional print media and old movies–the film, as you may have guessed, features thousands of printed, magically-imbued books. According to their recent press release, in fact, the film is “Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books.” Each of these influences shine brightly throughout the film, lending an air of familiarity, innocence, and nostalgia to its viewing.

Beyond the striking aesthetics and heartwarming story, the production, marketing, and distribution of the film are noteworthy for their innovative use of new media. The film was created using a hybrid mix of old and new techniques–miniatures and 2D animation on the one hand, and computer animation on the other.  What’s more, you can view the film for free, in its entirety, on the studio’s homepage via Vimeo. Or, you can download it (also for free) from the iTunes store. Aside from the film itself, Moonbot has created an interactive e-book for iPad users, which has received rave reviews. Out of 725 user reviews, it maintains a solid 4.5 star rating, and has been enthusiastically touted as the future of storybooks. Despite their widespread use of mobile apps and digital distribution, however, Moonbot also plans to release a real, tangible, printed version of “Mr. Morris Lessmore,” to be published by Simon & Schuster later this year.

As an avid lover of books–the real, printed kind–I am awed by, and thankful for, Moonbot’s creation. While a student in a technology-driven graduate program and a devoted consumer of Apple products through and through, I read books the good old-fashioned way. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” somehow combines the best of the nostalgic, printed world, with the forward-thinking digital world in a way that seems neither forced nor incompatible. Flying books just may be the wave of the future. Tune in to the Oscars on February 26th to find out for sure.

Moonbot Studios. (2012). “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” Nominated for Best Animated Short in 2011 Oscars. [Press release]. Retrieved from: http://www.moonbotstudios.com/

Image courtesy of Biblioteca Municipal de Rianxo on Flickr.

Erin Coleman

Though originally from the suburbs of Boston, Erin has been a Georgetown Hoya for the entirety of her adult life. She holds a B.A. in Italian and English, and she is currently both an M.A. candidate in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program as well as a full-time employee of the university as the events coordinator at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Passionate about all things Italian and international, Erin is studying the impact of globalization on culture, identity, and diplomacy.