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.

7 Responses to “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

Charlotte Jensen said...
April 28, 2015 at 6:36 AM

A goldfinch hit the window twice and there was no sign of it after, in the evening one of my guineapigs died!

anzyfab said...
May 16, 2015 at 10:51 AM

I am here on this page because I am having a very, very unusual experience at my home with a large red-breasted robin. With the one exception of my little pug dog "Earley", I live alone in a medium-sized, split level home in a quiet, lovely little neighborhood. Crime is rare in our neighborhood so when the house settles and creaks or groans, I generally ignore it for what it is., especially, if my little companion does not bark or growl at the noise.
Today however, a noise, like someone knocking at my sliding glass door, caused both my little pug and I to snap to alert. There are two sliding glass doors, one is off the deck from my dining room upstairs and one is directly below,downstairs in the finished basement. When someone comes to visit or a delivery arrives the person rings or knocks at the front door. There is no reason to go around back and as far as I know only friends and family would even know about the back doors. Therefore we were startled by the sound of knocking at the sliding glass door. Carefully, my heart pounding and with my little dog at my side, growling low, with short, quiet attempts too bark intermittently we approached the upstairs sliding door. There I saw the large Robin repeatedly hitting the glass in the door. Alarmed and relieved I carefully slid the door open to see if the bird was hurt and need help. As soon as it saw me it flew backwards and away. I had never heard of a Robin or any bird besides the humming bird flying backwards! Suddenly I realized that my arms and legs were alight with goosebumps and a dread came over me like I have never before experienced. I have never been superstitious and I have not heard of this bird knocking superstition before just now. I tried to laugh at myself for the seemingly unreasonable fear I was having. I went back to my bedroom /office and continued the work I was about before the interruption. 10 minutes or more went by when suddenly both my dog and I heard a tapping on the sliding door down stairs , directly below the upstairs glass door. My little dog now had his fur literally standing straight up on his back and he was barking, not loud but frightened. I marched bravely to the upstairs door to see if I could see the bird again. As I grew close to the railing a loud flapping of its wings caught my attention to the large Robin fly upwards to a neighbor's tree from below my deck. He just sat there on the limb of the tree looking side-eyed at me as if he did not dare look at me directly. I felt suddenly chilled, though it was warm already outside. I felt like doom was near! I asked the bird what the hell he/she was up, to try to sound brave and snap myself out of this craziness I felt.
That is what happened only minutes ago, I then came to the computer and typed this into google "When a bird knocks repeatedly at the door or window" I pressed enter and this site came up along with others about this ominous superstitious warning when a bird, particularly those of red color or red on them knocks at the glass of a door! I must tell you I am in a state of semi shock. I feel very uneasy and alone. If anyone has any advice I would appreciate it. I am calling a friend to come over now to sit with us for a while. I hope he does not think I have lost my way.

Sheri said...
May 21, 2015 at 4:00 PM

I have had a large Robin pecking on the windows of my house since April 8th of this year. Daily. Some days it is so loud and non stop I can hardly stand it. I have asked it many times, "who are you, what do you want?" A neighbor told me it was probably the spirit of a deceased family member. I just think that is a long time for the same bird to keep up pecking at the windows of our house. Some days he pecks for most of the day. Other days he comes and goes but he is always here.

CANDIPOT said...
May 30, 2015 at 10:26 PM

My aunt was taken to hospital at around 3pm and 5pm I was closing the curtains and saw the imprint of a bird on the window.. it looked almost angelic. I look out the window at the ground and there was a dead pigeon / dove (the grey and purple kind). My husband told me it was a sign she was going to die. We believe owls are connected to us and we believe birds are a sign. At 7pm they said she was showing some improvement. By 9pm they announced she past away. That the bird left an angelic imprint on the window in white is amazing. I truly believe birds are connected to us.

Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade said...
June 28, 2015 at 5:45 AM

This black bird has been coming judiciously for about a year now to the window behind my house. It starts to knock on the window from as early as 6am until 4pm in the afternoon. Whenever I scare it away, it will fly around to the front of the house and knock on the front window downstairs. After awhile it comes back to the back window upstairs. Last week I put a coconut bird feeder on the door for the bird to feed on some seeds. The bird just ignores the feeder and continues to tap on the window as if trying to alert me or my wife.

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