Moonbot Studios has been turning heads with its imaginative and exquisitely crafted iPad applications for kids, and now a spinoff of one of these apps, a short animated film, has been nominated for an Academy Award. Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore draws its inspiration from "Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books," blending cutting-edge digital animation with a haunting silent-film aesthetic.
Stills from the film
In "How to Build the Pixar of the iPad Age in Shreveport, Louisiana," The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal and Sarah Rich describe how they drove 500 miles out of their way on their Start-Up Nation tour to visit Moonbot. "Moonbot is on the verge of national recognition," they write. They tour the studio, meet its founders, as well as young animators and designers straight out of Ringling College of Art and Design, and see a puppet show staging of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. They also get the scoop on Moonbot's forthcoming projects, two of which are losely based on Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Moonbot's affinity for classic cinema seems to be just one of many aspects of how the studio is committed to stories that will entrance both children and adults.
At the intersection of interactive technology and good old fashioned storytelling, Moonbot is poised to shape the next generation of narrative experiences, Madrigal explains. The iPad version of Mr. Morris Lessmore is in a class of its own, he writes:
Their first project, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, was released for the iPad last May. It recounts the wondrous adventures of a book lover who dotingly cares for a living library before writing a book himself that tells of "his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped." Gorgeously illustrated, Lessmore breaks new ground in the way that it incorporates interactivity. Each page has a wormhole of interaction. Read about a song and perhaps a keyboard will pop up and guide your fingers to plunk out "Pop Goes the Weasel." When Morris Lessmore hand-feeds alphabet cereal to his books, the reader gets a bowl too, with letters that can be dragged along through the milk to spell out words. Each page holds its game like a secret and puzzling out what to do encourages the reader to look harder, knowing they'll be rewarded ...
Morris Lessmore may be the best iPad book in the world. In July, Morris Lessmore hit the number one spot on Apple's iPad app chart in the US. That is to say, Morris Lessmore wasn't just the bestselling book, but the bestselling *app* of any kind for a time.
Comparisons to Pixar are unavoidable, but Moonbot's work has a distinctive feel -- an affinity for old things, an antique veneer, and a hint of southern gothic. With an eye for details like Buster Keaton's straw hat and vintage French typography, Moonbot's world is immersive and rich. Even in his noninteractive format, Mr. Lessmore will be a contender for one of those little golden statues.
For more work by Moonbot Studios, visit http://www.moonbotstudios.com/.
Updated February 27, 2012, 10:05am: Moonbot took home the Oscar for best animated short, but unfortunatley the full version of the film is no longer available online, so the trailer is posted above.