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‘The Pagemaster’ (G)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 23, 1994
To find your spine, there's no place quite like the public library. That's the lesson of "The Pagemaster," a splendidly original children's fantasy about the world of books, "where a boy's imagination can take root . . . where everything is possible."
Macaulay Culkin plays Richard, a timid kid whose fearfulness is compounded by a headful of statistics. He won't climb the ladder into the fine new treehouse his father (Ed Begley Jr.) has built for him in the back yard because "8 percent of household incidents involve ladders and another 3 percent involve trees."
Then, one dark and stormy afternoon, Richard takes refuge in an empty library at the edge of the woods. Mr. Dewey (Christopher Lloyd), the librarian, reads volumes, from his sheepish manner, and suggests that Richard is in need of adventure. The boy declines and turns to leave -- only to be distracted by a vivid mural in the building's rotunda.
It's actually the doorway to an animated universe, where some of the best-loved and most-feared characters from children's literature help him discover his strengths and conquer his fears. "I'm a cartoon!" shrieks Richard after he is transformed in a dazzling animated sequence that begins with a splash of paint. "You are an illustration," amends the Pagemaster (voiced by Lloyd), a magician who tells Richard to look to the books if he would return to his own world. The boy sets out alone across the animated landscape, but is soon befriended by three frisky tomes come to life: the swashbuckling Adventure (voiced by Patrick Stewart), the wand-wending Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg) and the hunchbacked Horror (Frank Welker).
In their delightful company, Richard travels from the home of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Long John Silver's "Treasure Island." After narrowly eluding the peg-legger's sword, they encounter Ahab and the Great White Whale, a fire-breathing dragon, a flurry of fairies, Mother Goose and Poe's Raven.
Many in the target audience -- 10 and under -- won't understand some of the references or jokes, which are clearly aimed at their parents. The characters of Fantasy, Adventure and Horror are wonderfully acted and supplied with some cheeky repartee by producer-writer David Kirschner. "How'd you like to curl up with a good book?" takes on an altogether different meaning when Adventure suggests it to Fantasy.
The animation is not up to the standards set by Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," but it's cheery and comical enough to keep the little ones interested even if they don't turn over a new leaf.
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