An animated short film created by wondrous author/illustrator William Joyce is nominated for best short animated film at this year's Academy Awards. "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" is utterly gorgeous; it's got Joyce's clear stamp all over it, in the way whimsy appears (an illustration of Humpty Dumpty becomes a character, animated like a flip book) and in the round, retro style of the visuals. It, along with at least one other animation from Moonbot Studios (Joyce's company), were created as iPad applications, and thus are interactive narratives. Since I don't have an iPad (can't afford one, doing okay without), I don't know what, exactly, the app can do that the film doesn't, but it's there to be purchased for $4.99, well worth the price. the iTunes store listing is accompanied by truly glowing reviews of the app/film.
William Joyce has been a favorite of mine for years and years, ever since A Day With Wilbur Robinson. I've been collecting his books since at least my early college years, I've watched George Shrinks and the unspeakably adorable Rollie Poly Ollie (I also may or may not have stuffed versions of Ollie and his sister Zoe). I was - and still am - delighted that this short film exists at all, and that it's been nominated. It would make an amazing winner, especially following last year's equally glorious (and author/illustrator of children's books-based) The Lost Thing, a filmic version of Shaun Tan's book of the same name.
The Fantastic Flying Books needs to be watched, and I won't oversummarize - suffice it to say it is "about" Hurricane Katrina and storms, literal and metaphorical, and creation and creativity, imagination and art, loss and grief, happiness and joy, and above all, books. This is the kind of book-built world that bibliophiles and, I think, those of us who love children's literature in particular, dream of. The animated Humpty Dumpty in his book of nursery rhymes is especially resonant for those of us who live in and among children's books, particularly older, worn editions.
It's a silent film - the score is reprise after reprise of "Pop goes the weasel," a tune which takes on, incredibly, sad, mournful, griefstricken tones (along with richer, more hopeful notes). There's not much text in this, despite being about books; everything we need we see in lovely shapes and colors and expressions. The unbelievably emotive Humpty Dumpty is worth the watch just for himself; the life that's created in him, in his book-ness, is spectacular. Humpty Dumpty makes visible the truth that all readers know, that books are friends; we see, through him, how his human reader is truly Humpty's friend as well.
Joyce lives in Louisiana, and the film was made entirely in-state; it is dedicated to Coleen Salley and Bill Morris, both very important figures in the world of children's books, storytelling, publishing, and literacy. It is also, as the final "page" of the film tells us, in memory of Mary Katherine Joyce. This last bit of information, when I encountered it, was crushing; I immediately remembered my William Joyce Scrapbook, which includes mention of Joyce's children - Jackson and Mary Katherine. A tiny bit of googling reveals that Mary Katherine died of a brain tumor in May 2010, at age 18. Though the film is moving enough as it is - no, really, keep your tissues handy - knowing this makes the presence in the film of two girls - one a young woman, one a child - a little more meaningful.
I don't place much importance on the Academy Awards, as a rule, but I would be overjoyed to see this win an Oscar; it's an amazing accomplishment, a love-letter to books and reading in the form of a film.