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Western Animation: The Pagemaster

The Pagemaster is a 1994 film that features both Live Action and Animation, one of only two made by Turner Entertainment's animation unit before Warner Bros. took over (Cats Don't Dance was the other). The Pagemaster tells the story of a young boy named Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin), who is — to his parentsí annoyance — timid to the point of neurosis. He is tremendously afraid of heights and generally obsessed with quoting the statistical risks invovled in countless everyday actions, which, of course, explains why he isn't the most popular guy. One day his father runs out of nails while building him a tree house and sends a very reluctant Richard to buy more.

On his way to the hardware store, a storm suddenly breaks out, and Richard seeks shelter in a huge and luxurious but rather sinister library. The only person there is its extremely enthusiastic and slightly creepy librarian, played by Christopher Lloyd, who is disappointed that Richard merely sought shelter from the storm and isn't looking for books, but affably points him towards the public telephone so he can contact his parents. While wandering deeper into the library in search of the phone, Richard enters a magnificent rotunda painted with gigantic scenes from classic novels which surround the image of a blue-robed wizard holding a scroll.

The paint descends on Richard, transforming him and the library into an animated world of illustrations where the mystical wizard, the eponymous Pagemaster (also voiced by Lloyd), tells him that in order to get home, the boy must face three challenges: The lands of Horror, Adventure and Fantasy. He is assisted by three books which personify those genres(colourfully voiced by Frank Welker, Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg respectively). Along the way we see references to many classic books such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, along with a goodly heaping of Incredibly Lame Puns, while Richard learns to confront his fears and to lead a life of bravery.

Beloved childhood classic to many children of The Nineties, despite being both a commercial and critical failure. It sadly holds a 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Lower than fellow Turner film, Tom & Jerry: The Movie).

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: When the situation calls for it, like in the Long John Silver section, Fantasy can be one very dangerous book.
  • And Your Little Dog Too: The dragon deliberately goes after Richard's only friends, the books, first. This forces him to try and stand up to his fears.
  • Animation Lead Time: There were trailers coming out for this movie FOUR YEARS before it was released!
  • The Assimilator: The dragon shape-shifts into a monstrous painting abomination that absorbs Richard into the worlds of Horror, Adventure and Fantasy. Changing him into an illustration, just so it can devour him later.
  • Award Bait Song: "Whatever You Imagine", which plays during Fantasy's sequence.
  • Axe Crazy: Mr. Hyde in the horror section, using a cane instead of an axe.
    • Captain Ahab, to a very worrying degree - red eyes are even used!
  • Body Horror: Dr Jekyll's (presumably) very Painful Transformation to monstrous Mr. Hyde
  • Cave Mouth: Our heroes find a cave, which is full of stalagmites and stalactites. When Adventure accidentally breaks one, it's revealed that the "cave" is actually the mouth of a dragon.
  • Cowardly Lion: Richard himself.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fantasy, to an extent. It helps that she's voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.
  • Drunk on the Dark Side: Dr Jekyll after becoming Mr Hyde.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: After the climax, Richard escapes from the giant dragon's belly and enters a building. Its obviously not dead, and obviously very pissed. Its right outside. Yet the characters converse with the titular Pagemaster as if they're now in the clear.
    • Hilariously, the Pagemaster even talks about it, telling Richard he's triumphed over it. Hello? He hasn't vanquished it! Its. Right. OUTSIDE!
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: In the beginning of the movie, Richard has one of the most death-defying bike rides ever, encountering heavy rain, harsh winds, exploding street lamps and falling trees. Of course the scene is from his point of view, meaning it all seems terrifying to him. Played straighter when he enters the Library, where everything is trying to kill him.
  • Evil Laugh / Laughing Mad: Mr Hyde.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Adventure looks like a pirate, complete with eyepatch. There's nothing wrong with the eye under it - so when he needs to get a better look at something he just lifts it up.
  • False Crucible
  • Fantasy Helmet Enforcement: Averted, when Richard first sets off on his bike he has a ludicrous amount of safety gear, but loses it by the end of the film as another nod to his character development of growing past his neuroses.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: A few countries just put Pagemaster: [Something] as the title.
  • Genre Blindness: As the characters approach a frightening mansion in the Horror section, Fantasy reads the names of the residents: "Dr. Jekyll...Mr. Hyde...(Beat)...Must be a duplex." Then again, It's not Fantasy's genre, so OF COURSE she wouldn't realize the rules of a horror story.
  • Ghost Butler: The door of Jekyll's mansion closes after Richard ventures in, trapping him inside.
  • Glamour Failure: The Anthropomorphic Personification of a Horror book is seen through a vial of mysterious liquid for a few frames of Beautiful All Along.
  • Groin Attack: Averted. Adventure's sword came up between Richard's legs.
  • Gulliver Tie Down: Happens to Horror near the border between adventure and fantasy.
  • Haunted Castle: Jekyll's house.
  • The Homeward Journey
  • Hypocritical Humor: After his dad is hit on the head with a bucket and falls from the treehouse, Richie says "Can't argue with statistics, Dad!" despite him being the one that set the accident in motion.
  • I'm Not Afraid Of You: Adverted. Richard in the dragon's clutches, stares down his nemesis declaring he's not scared of it. The dragon doesn't care.
  • I Am Not Leonard Nimoy: Be honest, how many of you said, "That's Spock!" when you heard Jekyll's voice?
  • Just Eat Him: The "Alive and Whole" subtype is enacted by the dragon. It could easily incinerate Richard but prefers to do this instead.
    • Kind of clever when you consider the dragon is supposed to be Richard's fears incarnate and manifested into physical form. Get it? He was consumed by fear?
  • Kids Are Cruel: The other kids in Richard's neighborhood who make fun of him for his cowardice when he sets out on his bike to buy nails at the hardware store.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: Adverted. After Richard is eaten by a dragon, he makes a beanstalk appear by opening a book entitled Jack and the Beanstalk that was also inside the dragon's stomach, and uses it to escape. The implacable fiery beast does not die however.
  • Large Ham: George Hearn as Ahab, which isn't a surprise when one remembers his other roles. He is only on-screen for few minutes, but surely everyone remembers him.
    • Considering how OTT Ahab got when even thinking about Moby-Dick, this characterization isn't too far off.
    • Patrick Stewart as Adventure also deserves mention.
  • Logical Fallacies: "8% of all household accidents involve ladders. Another 3% involve trees. We're looking at 11% probability here". First, he's ignoring some overlap between the 8% and the 3%. Secondly he's assuming that an accident will happen, in which case the probability that it involves ladders is 8%, but that doesn't tell us anything about the chances that this specific ladder-climbing event will lead to an accident. What he needs is a statistic in the form of "X% of the time somebody climbs a ladder, they have an accident" rather than "X% of all accidents involve ladders."
    • Possibly justified given Richard's age (he can't be any older than junior-high age). Just because he knows statistics doesn't mean he understands how to calculate probability.
  • Ludicrous Precision:
    Richard: Dad, 8% of all household accidents involve ladders. Another 3% involve trees. We're looking at 11% probability here.
  • Magic Librarian: The Pagemaster himself.
  • Medium Blending: Trapped in an Animated World
  • Mighty Glacier: The dragon's invincibility and raw power is matched only by its slooooow advancing.
  • Nerd Glasses: Richard.
  • Never Trust a Trailer / Covers Always Lie: That sword? The live-action Richard doesn't get it. The animated one does, for a brief time.
  • Oh Crap: Adventure gets one of these, when he realizes that the dragon was right behind him.
  • Omniscient Morality License : The eponymous Pagemaster takes a cowardly child and subjects him to all sorts of deadly situations. To all appearances, there was a real chance that the kid would either die or develop severe mental trauma as a result of this. But instead he learns to be courageous, and the Pagemaster gets off the hook because apparently he's just so darn wise that he knew it would work out like this from the beginning.
  • Or Was It a Dream?
  • Ow, My Body Part!: Adventure yells "Ow! Me binding!" after Fantasy smacks him.
  • Pirate: Adventure acts like one, and then they meet real ones (Long John Silver's crew).
  • Portal Books
  • Public Domain Character: Tons of them.
  • Random Events Plot: But seriously, the film is really, really lacking in, shall we say, story structure?
  • Reading Is Cool Aesop
  • Red Filter of Doom: A particularly gratuitous one during the Captain Ahab sequence.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • Right Behind Me: Adventure starts ranting about how the dragon doesn't pose a single threat to him, just as said dragon is behind him.
  • Room Full of Crazy: More like "Boat full of crazy" for Captain Ahab; hoo boy, that is one mad man. Even Fantasy, who's out of her depth and section in the "Adventure Section" can see it!
    • There's also Doctor Jekyll; it involves potions, a cane, a floor burning from acid, candles, a chandelier and one very crazy mad doctor. No more needs to be said.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: When the dragon appears at the climax.
  • Rule of Three: Three challenges and three books, anyone?
  • Secondary Character Title
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Horror and Adventure.
  • Shout-Out: Many classic books are referred to during the course of this movie, from full sequences to quick moments like a raven cawing "Nevermore!" while swooping down from a bust of Pallas above the archway in Dr. Jekyll's manor.
    • Don't forget the dozens of covers of the various books that we see during the film.
    • The satyr with the panpipes and the little dancing blue fairies are respectively references to the Pastoral Symphony and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Fantasia.
  • So Unfunny It's Funny:
    Adventure: How would you like to... curl up with a good book?
  • Spooky Silent Library
  • Stock Audio Clip: Richard saying "Hey, look! There's the exit!" twice.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The dragon pursues Richard constantly.
  • Swallowed Whole: Richard by the dragon. A beanstalk saves him.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: Adventure and the actual pirates from the Treasure Island part. Patrick Stewart sounds like he's really enjoying himself.
  • Technically a Smile: Horror.
  • Visual Pun: Richard and the gang encounter some ghost stories, i.e., books that are actually intangible and/or haunted.
  • Wrote the Book:
    Adventure: I wrote the book on sailing. In fact, I am the book on sailing.
  • X Meets Y: The Wizard of Oz meets Reading Rainbow.
  • Your Worst Nightmare: Richard is terrified of the dragon that chases him everywhere and hounds him in his dreams, and in the worlds of Horror, Adventure and Fantasy.


Once Upon a ForestThe Renaissance Age of AnimationThe Pebble and the Penguin
Only YouFilms of the 1990sThe Paper
Over the HedgeAnimated FilmsThe Painting

alternative title(s): The Pagemaster; The Pagemaster
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