The 2011 animated short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, an allegory about the curative powers of story, won the hearts of children, adults, film festival judges, and Best Animated Short Film at the 84th Annual Academy Awards.
Directors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg wowed audiences by synthesizing cutting-edge modern tools with traditional cinematic elements. Computer animation, miniatures, and conventional hand-drawn techniques visually bring to life the story of a man who gives his life to books.
This blog intends to examine three modes of cinematic expression in the short film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Specifically the use of iconography, color, and composition.
Iconography is an essential part of film and television shows, with specific visual images or symbols used to convey critical information about the story, genre, or timeframe.
When Morris Lessmore is blown out of his stasis by the inciting incident of a storm, he grabs his book while the storm blows away buildings. The iconography of the images and symbols of the storm provides visual clues to the viewer, referencing the genre, the theme, and the plot.
This story is a modern tribute to an old world. A silent film paying homage to the world of yesterday – a world in which printed books inhabited our world.
- The viewer immediately understands the significance of a storm blowing away buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Our minds and hearts are taken back to 2005 and the devastation caused by the real-life Hurricane Katrina.
- Morris Lessmore’s grey suit, walking stick, and porkpie hat will remind cinephiles of the silent film actor Buster Keaton. Specifically, in the storm scene from the 1928 film Steamboat Bill, Jr.
- The storm’s visual images are also inspired by the tornado scene in the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz. Also, as the use of color (see below).
- The nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty
- The story Treasure Island
A color is a powerful tool in cinematic expression. On the surface, making images dynamic, colorful, and beautiful. However, with the proper uses, color in the film tells a story. This is evident in the Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
- Like The Wizard of Oz, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore utilizes the contrast of color and black and white as a narrative device. The black and white represent the storm’s sadness and despair.
- When the hurricane descends, the colors darken. After the storm, the color grey marks utter devastation. Morris wanders in the grey, conveying a feeling of sadness and boredom until the Lovely Lady hands him a copy of Humpty Dumpty. The color is restored, marking Morris’s newfound happiness.
- Morris himself attain color when entering his new home, the library. The people waiting in line are grey and only become colorful after borrowing books from Morris’s library. The use of color marks the significance of books in people’s lives. (Similar to the movie Pleasantville.)
The composition, the arrangement of visual elements to convey an intended message, is seen in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
According to Dr. Anette Hagen, “The Potential for Aesthetic Experience in a Literary App” the composition of the film and the app is minimal, conveying a world of minimalism to the viewer: less is more.
- The character Morris Lessmore is the only human character with a name.
- The character of Morris Lessmore appears in every frame of the film.
- Morris Lessmore’s life is minimal. His life involves only books. He has no family, no romance, and no ordinary life.
It is evident that the three modes of cinematic expression, color, composition, and iconography, found in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, contribute to the immense pleasure of audiences of all ages and all nationalities.
(Adapted from a paper written for Cinematic Expression Course with Professor Anat Kapach)