Saturday, October 6, 2012

Close the Book On This One: "The Pagemaster" (1994)

Macaulay Culkin proves while he may have been the world's most popular child actor, he really was not all that great a performer.

Mac is Rich, a nervous and paranoid little boy who lives with his parents Ed Begley, Jr. and Mel Harris. If I had these two as parents, I would be nervous, too. Rich is afraid of everything, quoting statistics and rarely taking any chances for fear of bodily injury.

One stormy day, he rides his souped up super safe bike to the hardware store, but diverts into a library to get out of the rain. Christopher Lloyd is the creepiest librarian ever, directing Rich to a pay phone so he can call his parents. Rich slips and knocks himself out, and awakens magically animated and transported to a strange land where books can talk.

So, we have a weird little boy who has a lot of issues being knocked unconscious while a dirty old man lurks in the same deserted building, the boy awakens and hallucinates that books talk to him. Sounds like my prom night...

Three books befriend Rich: Adventure (voiced by Patrick Stewart), Fantasy (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), and Horror (voiced by Frank Welker). The books then follow Rich on his quest for a giant EXIT sign that will lead him back to real life, and home.

The group run through familiar stories like "Moby Dick," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," etc., yet this film even finds a way to make these classics boring. The movie's basic, unsubtle message is that children should read more. However, it seems Rich is reading, he can quote safety statistics. So, he must read more fiction. No Shakespeare, but exciting fiction that can be touched on with cheap animation in a vehicle for its child star.

The live action opening and closing pieces had to have been done in a day. The animation here is weak at best. The background colors will be vibrant, yet the foreground animated characters are washed out and look like a beige color wheel. Even at seventy six minutes, this goes on forever, and ends with a couple of Oscar-hopeful songs about nurturing dreams and using your imagination. Too bad the film makers could not follow the advice of their own tunes.

Culkin has dropped out of sight lately, telling some interviewers how unhappy he was in the business. "The Pagemaster" provides ample proof, and I can certainly feel his pain...I sat down and watched this movie. (*) out of five stars.