It's a shame that the Oscars' short-film category doesn't get more attention. Some of the year's best movies can be found buried in here. I could go on forever running down the merits of two of the great movies in the animation field — the edgy and creepy A Morning Stroll or Pixar's sweet and visually stunning La Luna.
In the documentary department, Incident in New Baghdad is a disturbing inside look at the infamous 2007 video that WikiLeaks unveiled to the world. And the live-action The Shore is a touching take on friendship and forgiveness.
But none of these movies are ultimately as powerful as the animated The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a moving, sweet homage to the rejuvenating power of books, reading, and writing. The character of Morris Lessmore looks like Buster Keaton, and the film even borrows some of Keaton's gags from his 1928 classic Steamboat Bill, Jr., recreating dance steps and pratfalls. But this magic movie is a truly original work that grabs you and won't let go.
In less than 15 minutes, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore cleverly dissects all that is great about our relationship with books. But this is a lot more than just a manifesto on the power of reading. It's a silent work, but it's still full of words. It shows how a book sitting on a shelf is nothing until it is taken down and read. And then both the book and its reader are transformed into something different, something more alive.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was made during an era when attention spans are at their all-time shortest and text messaging and tweeting are replacing actual reading. You can credit illustrator, author, and director William Joyce (creator of the wonderful animated kids program Rolie Poli Olie) and co-director Brandon Oldenburg — both Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks animation veterans — for making such a literate and loving tribute to the power of real words.
Near the end of the film, Morris Lessmore writes, "I seldom understand things." Seconds later, he adds, "If life is enjoyable, does it have to make sense?" More than anything, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a fantasy rooted in a simple fact: Books matter, and make sense, to the degree in which we're willing to open ourselves to them.
But it doesn't ask for much. All you need to do is to keep your eyes and heart open and allow this hurricane of a movie to fill you with joy. It will all make perfect sense in the end.
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