It’s magical the way that Moonbot Studios, creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, imbue brilliant creativity and pure joy into everything they create. I have no idea how they do it, but I hope they never stop. Numberlys is a perfect melding of their glorious animation and the inventive ways they make the reader part of the story.
Imagine the world of Metropolis, if it were inhabited by adorable little round-headed creatures with big, expressive eyes, who know nothing of letters or words. In this invented world, there are only numbers. Numbers are used for everything, including names, objects, and places.
In this drab but fascinating world, we’re introduced to five characters who grow tired of their humdrum existence and decide that they need something better than numbers to express themselves. It’s a pivotal decision that inspires them to create the first alphabet, an action that will have major ramifications for their world.
As the app plays, the action switches between silent movie-style “caption cards,” which narrate the Numberlys’ tale, and the animated scenes. You can turn off the curiously Russian-accented voiceover for the narrated segments, should you want to read it for yourself or aloud to someone else. The animated scenes — and Numberlys is probably made up of a good 50-60% CGI animation — are utterly euphoric, on a Pixar level of quality and expressiveness. Our five little heroes are a delightful crew who have a tendency for pratfalls and a talent for creativity. When they go rogue from society and commandeer a massive factory to build their new alphabet, the viewer is invited to join them in their work.
Using crazy and clever tools of their trade, they bend, twist, hammer, and bounce on huge metal beams until they arrive at the desired shape — actions that you control. A few letters are created in pairs, but for the most part, your objective is to build the entire alphabet, a single letter at a time. You can go through them one by one, or pull down an index menu (an artistic marvel in its own right that’s designed as spinning gears) to select a letter or scene to jump to.
Moonbot’s insistence on crafting Numberlys in a stylized way works on every level, right down to the grainy, black and white aesthetic. The color red is inserted at opportune moments, representing the things that you can interact with. Numberlys also gives Moonbot an opportunity to playfully change the perspective, switching to portrait view instead of the landscape view that Morris Lessmore used. These little shifts tell me that Moonbot isn’t interested in tying themselves down to one way of doing things, that they love trying new methods, and that they make serving the needs of a story (or an app) among their top priorities, regardless of what those needs may be. The app also comes with a lovely original soundtrack that plays non-stop throughout the story.
Numberlys is a storybook in structure, even though it feels more like an interactive short film. It beautifully conveys a child-like wonder as each new letter is completed — a thinly veiled reference to Moonbot’s passion for words and storytelling. It’s a passion they do a marvelous job of passing on to their fans.
I did experience one glitch: the app crashed on my first generation iPad every time I reached the mini game for the letter B, no matter how many times I tried to access it. I assume this will be fixed in a future update; Moonbot has been great about updating and patching their apps in the past.
There simply aren’t enough positive words I can heap upon Numberlys. It’s that good. But thanks to the little guys in the app, we have an infinite supply of letters and words to build and weave together in wonderful ways. Numberlys is a masterpiece that every iDevice owner must have.