Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, and the voices of Patrick Steward, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Welker
Rated PG (for Action, I guess)
A good idea does not make a movie. You have to have follow through. You have to support it with good storytelling and a script that doesn't insult the intelligence or attention span of its audience, young as they may be. "The Pagemaster" can boast a brilliant concept, but directors Maurice Hunt and Joe Johnston (surprisingly) to a terrible job of bringing it to life.
Richard Tyler (Culkin) is afraid of everything. And I mean everything. His parents are worried about him, and when they send him on an errand, he gets caught in a terrible storm and takes refuge in a library. The librarian, Mr. Dewey (Lloyd) tries to get him interested in the books available to him, but Richard is dead-set on getting home. A nasty fall knocks him out and he ends up inside the library's books. To reach the exit, he must rely on three books: Adventure (Stewart), Fantasy (Goldberg) and Horror (Welker).
There's no reason to believe that this could have been a fantastic movie. The pieces are there. But it appears to have been filmed without a screenplay (or at least one with any merit). The dialogue is banal and the characters are too thin to be called types. As a result it comes across as an advertisement for books rather than an original story. For a movie that is such a cheerleader about imagination and storytelling, it doesn't give much more than a cursory cheer for either. The film moves lightning fast and doesn't do anything with the ideas it presents. There are references to many classic stories such as "Treasure Island" and "Moby Dick," but they're more like cutaways in an episode of "Family Guy" rather than germane to the story. Take them out and the movie wouldn't be much different. Of course, seeing as the movie isn't even 90 minutes, that would mean that you wouldn't have a movie. Considering the lack of quality and effort in this production, that could only be a good thing.
There's never been a bigger kid star than Macauley Culkin. Although his career as kid star lasted only four years before his self-imposed retirement (which he ended in 2003 with "Party Monster," a film that's as far from kid-friendly as they get), there's been no child actor with more fame than Culkin. Although his range is limited, he's a solid thespian. Here, however, he's walking through his performance. It's hard to blame him, since he was given such subpar material. But a little effort would have soothed the pain of sitting through this. Everyone's favorite looney Christopher Lloyd turns up to do his thing, but like Culkin, his talents are wasted. As for the three voice actors, Stewart, Goldberg, and Welker are annoying.
I would be lying if I said that the film is a total loss. The animation is nice in a Don Bluth sort of way (Bluth had nothing to do with the movie, however), and there is an effective joke or two.
Still, this is a movie that's best left to the discount bin. If you loved it as a kid, it's best to just keep it in your memories.