'Fantastic Flying Books' storytellers float to cloud nine with Oscar victory

Flying-Books-Morris

Everybody who claims an Academy Award is feeling pretty good in that moment, but perhaps no pair of winners on Sunday night were walking on air as much as the directors of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Oldenburg (low) and Joyce (high) — AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock

In lofty terms, the short is about the immortality of storytelling. In simple terms, it’s about an avid reader who discovers a flock of flying books and becomes caretaker for their library-aviary.

Directors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg were also hovering just above the ground Sunday after claiming their Oscar win over powerhouse Pixar. Maybe they should have been accustomed to success with this animated short already — it was created as both a 15-minute film and an interactive storybook app that has become massively popular. (If you haven’t heard about it yet, sorry: You’re late to the party.)

But the Oscar, man… That just seemed to push them over the top.

First, a little background: Oldenburg, 38, is an illustrator and cofounder of the special effects firm Reel FX Creative Studios, and has been working for years with Joyce, 54, a veteran illustrator and writer known for the storybooks Dinosaur Bob and George Shrinks.

Joyce also worked as a character designer for Toy Story and the 2005 animated feature Robots, among many other projects. (In November, DreamWorks Animation is releasing Rise of the Guardians, an epic adventure based on Joyce’s books about warrior versions of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other childhood myths.)

The pair recently founded the Shreveport, La.-based entertainment company Moonbot Studios, which put out The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (and just recently their follow-up about digits who invent the alphabet, The Numberlys.)

The pair came to the Oscars with the attitude of two working stiffs. “Look, we’re just like these two swamp rats from Louisiana,” Joyce said in his acceptance speech. “This is incredibly grand.”

Their tuxedos were even custom made by Dickies, the work-wear manufacturer based in Oldenburg’s hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. While the duds looked like normal tuxes on the outside, the bright orange lining inside their jackets was made from the same material a road crew uses to avoid being hit by cars.

After winning, they charged off the stage grinning and hooting, with their arms slung over each other — like contestants in a three-legged race who also happened to be carrying Academy Awards.

The duo were pure, uncut giddiness on stage, but as they hit the thank-you cam for Oscar.com backstage, and were speaking to the people closest to them, and not the masses, they took a moment to reflect. Oldenburg thanked the family of Jay Greenleaf, a man he described as “our biggest cheerleader,” while Joyce thanked his wife and son, and spoke of his daughter, Mary Katherine, who died at age 18 in 2010.

Morris Lessmore is dedicated to her, and though Joyce was smiling when he said her name, his voice shook just a tiny bit, and Oldenburg threw a reassuring arm over his shoulder as they moved on to cheering for their co-workers in Shreveport, watching from afar.

From there, the two wallowed in pure joy. Joyce was so animated, it was all he could do to keep his hat on his head as they looped through the shadowy backstage corridors to the press room in the hotel next door.

Phil McCarten/Landov

As bleachers full of photographers clicked away, Oldenburg and Joyce mugged for the cameras — leaping into the air, peering around corners, and posing with Bridesmaids stars Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey, who presented them the awards. As you can see in the picture at left, they also pumped their Oscars like barbells.

“It’s like being in little league T-ball and then suddenly finding yourself in the World Series,” Oldenburg said, before adding with a laugh: “But we were never really all that into sports!”

Joyce curled his Oscar in his fist and began pumping his bicep again. “Yeah, but these are heavy, so we have to get better at that.”

The duo were greeting every Oscar winner they ran into, like people at a wedding welcoming strangers into the family.

Christopher Plummer, who won Best Supporting Actor for Beginners (beating out fellow 82-year-old Max von Sydow to become the oldest-ever Oscar recipient), was being escorted backstage near the end of the show for a group photo when he met the Morris Lessmore boys.

The trio exchanged warm congratulations, but Oldenburg was grabbing his hair in panic afterward. “He called him Max!” Joyce laughed, pointing an accusing finger in his partner’s face.

Oldenburg looked stricken. “I called him Max,” he said, wincing.”It was just a faux pas.”

If Plummer even noticed, it didn’t phase him. And holding one of those golden statuettes on Oscar night excuses the occasional slip-up.

They had no such awkwardness with Meryl Streep, who was waiting alone to be escorted to the same group photo as Plummer when Joyce and Oldenburg ran into her in the wings of the stage just after the show concluded.

After a warm exchange with The Iron Lady Oscar winner, the two buddies went off to continue their celebration in parts unknown.

If the trailer above intrigues you, the storybook app for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore can be downloaded here, and it includes the entire short film.

You could search around and find pirated free versions online, but why would you want to hurt these two guys? (Don’t answer that, Christopher Plummer.)

Drop a couple bucks in the black porkpie hat of Moonbot Studios.

Let’s hope they keep making cool stuff.

On Twitter: @Breznican

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