Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

“We love stories and we want the world to know what inspires us.”
- Brandon Oldenburg, co-director, Moonbot Studios
Clinicians working with patients and families in hospice and palliative settings understand the power of story.  At our roots is the value of authentic listening.  It bestows respect, meaning and importance to people who may feel at times that nothing is going their way.  Many of the blog posts in Pallimed: Arts and Humanities are really about the story behind the artistic expression. This exploration of the meaning in art correlates with authentic listening.  When you slow down and appreciate and discover art in all its forms you amplify the meaning and importance, even if just to you as an individual.

In this digital age, my children (now almost 7) love playing on my iPad, sometimes Angry Birds, sometimes some educational apps.  One particular beautiful app caught my eye last year, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (iOS only).  When I first saw it in the app store, it seemed so familiar to me, and after some exploration online I realized I had heard about this app from its earlier incarnation as a 2012 Oscar winning short film by the same name.


A quick diversion to the inspiration of the short film: The screenplay was penned by William Joyce, noted children’s author (The Guardians of Childhood) and directed by Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. Both Joyce and Oldenburg are featured in the Oscars nomination clip. As Joyce shares in the ‘making of’ video, he created this story in the Fall of 2003 as he was going to visit the man who inspired it, William C. Morris, who was in poor health. Mr. Morris only lived a few short days after hearing the tale dedicated to him.  Mr. Morris was a strong proponent of children’s literature as noted by Michael Cart in The ALAN Review in 2003:
"He was that and more: he was also its heart. Bill loved good books; he loved their readers; he loved his work, and he loved HarperCollins. In return he was, himself, universally loved."
The story never was published and was not fully formulated until Joyce was able to experience Hurricane Katrina and its’ aftermath.  One can easily see how it inspires the early “Oz” like storm and resulting chaos and debris. Joyce received a grant to interview people affected by Katrina and describes the impact of seeing the blank stares on people’s faces which left a heavy impression. As strong evidence of the human spirit, Joyce was able to see their faces come to life as they shared their personal stories with him.   Co-director Brandenburg echoed the motivation for the project: “the curative power of story and that it can change lives”

Now back to the app and my kids...

The app description reinforced my ‘good parent’ motivations: ‘a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor.’  After a short download, my son and daughter proceeded to walk through the hybrid app/book.  The story begins with Mr. Morris Lessmore reading scores of books when a storm blows him and all his books away.  The muted earth tones of New Orleans architecture give way to a bleak gray landscape littered with debris and empty books.  In the background of this silent film, “Pop Goes the Weasel” repeats, but uses many different themes and tempos to reflect the myriad of moods depicted in the action: sorrow, joy, disillusionment, whimsy, hope.  Morris eventually comes to a library where the inhabitants are books who take him in, share stories, and enable him to spread the love of books to others.


If you have not watched the film ($3 iTunes), read the book (less than $15), or used the app ($5 iOS), I highly encourage you to purchase at least one of them and support the artists who made it.  You could find the film on YouTube from copyright violators, but if you do, I hope you purchase it anyway after you see how wonderful it is.


Well, as I sat playing through the app with my children, I began to sense things were going to get more emotionally heavy at the end.  Mr. Morris works with these books and barely interacts with any other humans, he begins to age, and the seasons change.

I found the scene where he repairs a book in a surgical amphitheater particularly moving when taken in a palliative context.  The book old book flat lines on the EKG and can only be revived once he is read by Morris.  What an amazing allegory depicting how reading someone’s story actually brings them to life?

A short cameo of honor is also given to author Colleen Salley, who died in 2008.  You see her as the first woman Morris gives a book to.  Salley was a strong supporter of children’s literature who also understood why stories matter.  
“She believed in the power of story to change a life, and I feel like she needed to be in this short as well” - Joyce
At the end of the short, Morris completes his book, presumably his biography.  As he sets off to say goodbye to the books and leave the library, the books surround him in a transformational cocoon, and in a moment appears his younger self. Morris then jets through the sky, led by a squadron of flying books much the same way as the young woman encountered early in Morris’ post-storm journey.  At the closing scene we see Morris in a picture on the wall along with the flying book lady and a few other off-screen characters.

So as I watched this with my kids, I asked them what happened to Mr. Morris.  They floored me in saying, “He died,” as though it were a simple matter of fact.  I was expecting them to not pick up on the symbolism of death, but they saw it pretty straight forward.  They were a little sad at the end, but were eager to go through the app again.  On the second time through they asked me if the flying book lady was also dead.  After multiple viewings, I am not sure if this post-storm world is real life, a limbo, or an imagining of heaven. It was a fascinating conversation with my kids, and one that I imagine countless others may have had with their families after watching this amazing short.  

Share this one with your team, your family and share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 by Christian Sinclair · 7