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Western Animation / The Pagemaster

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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).

Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) is a young boy who is — much to his parents’ annoyance — timid to the point of neurosis. He is tremendously afraid of heights and generally obsessed with quoting the statistical risks involved 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 with a ceiling painted with gigantic scenes from classic stories, 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 (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 puns, while Richard learns to confront his fears and to lead a life of bravery.

The film is notable for featuring great literary figures... without explaining why they were great. It suffered from a lack of success, but earned a small cult following through strong home video sales. It also had tie-in video games, with a PC adventure game and Sega Genesis, SNES, and Game Boy platform games.

This film provides examples of:

  • 6 Is 9: The pirates' treasure map uses a letter W for directions, but the pirates mistake it for an M or an E. They would have gotten lost if Long John Silver didn't show them the right way to hold the map.
    Pirate #1: It's, uh, in the middle, by the waterfall.
    Pirate #2: No, it's east, by some broccoli.
    Long John Silver: Give me that! Why, you half-wits, it's west by a tree!
  • Action Girl: When the situation calls for it, like in the Long John Silver section, Fantasy can be one very dangerous book.
  • Adaptational Villainy: While he's nice enough in the movie, the PC game's version of Dr. Jekyll has him collaborating with Hyde to rule the world.
  • Advertising by Association: Some of the trailers for the film said "From the creator of An American Tail" at the beginning. This was possibly done to mislead people into thinking it was a Don Bluth film, which it wasn't; David Kirschner produced both films.
  • 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Richard delivers this when confronting the Pagemaster over the dangers of his quest. Double subverted as he also puts a "Jaywalking" point within the list of "Jaywalking" points.
    Richard: I was nearly torn apart by a crazy doctor, made a slave to some mangy pirates, and EATEN by a fire-breathing dragon! Not to mention being tossed, squashed, AND SCARED PRACTICALLY TO DEATH!
  • Artistic License – Statistics: Richard claims that because 8% of all household accidents involve ladders and 3% involve trees, interacting with ladders and trees together results in an 11% probability of an accident. Given that the film is about getting over his fears, this is probably an in-universe example.
  • 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" by Wendy Moten, which plays during Fantasy's sequence.
    • Also "Dream Away" by Babyface & Lisa Stansfield which plays over the end credits. Unlike Whatever You Imagine, it wasn't co-written by James Horner.
  • Ax-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!
  • Big Bad: In the PC video game, Mr. Hyde is the main villain and plans to destroy the Pagemaster's book and powers.
  • Body Horror: Dr. Jekyll's (presumably) very Painful Transformation to monstrous Mr. Hyde.
  • Cane Fu: After transforming, Mr. Hyde uses Dr. Jekyll's cane to attack Richard and the others.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Cemetery: The "Horror" section of the library is a giant graveyard with books shaped like tombstones.
  • 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.
  • 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: Mr Hyde, the deranged psycho version of Dr. Jekyll. He laughs maniacally even when he falls to his doom.
  • 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.
  • Face Your Fears: What the Pagemaster reveals to have been the basis of Richard's journey.
  • False Crucible: Richard learns that everything he went through was a test to get him to face his fears.
  • Fantasy Helmet Enforcement: Inverted. 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.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The Dragon is first seen disguised as a cave. Eventually, the Dragon eats Richard when he tries to fight it.
  • 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." Naturally Fantasy wouldn't know anything about the Horror genre.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: A mural depicts Dr. Jekyll (from the book) surrounded by this sort of bric-à-brac. When the characters actually visit Jekyll's mansion, although his "laboratory" is limited to just one table in what appears to be his living room, it's filled to overflowing with all manner of cartoonish-looking lab glassware, none of which Jekyll actually uses (mixing his infamous potion in a martini glass of all things).
  • 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.
  • Hands Looking Wrong: When Richard is transformed from live action into an illustration we get a cut from his point of view inspecting his hands before cutting back to seeing his animated face for the first time as he declares in horror "I'm... a cartoon!".
  • Haunted Castle: Jekyll's house.
  • 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: Averted. 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.
  • 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: Averted. 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.
    • Leonard Nimoy as Mr Hyde. Sounds like he's having fun voicing a cackling maniacally monster.
  • Loony Librarian: Mr. Dewey, the "loony" part of his character provided by Large Ham Christopher Lloyd.
  • Lost at Sea: Richard and his friends are traveling across the sea on a dingy when the whale from Moby-Dick destroys their boat. Only Richard and Adventure make it to a raft, although they are quickly picked up by a group of pirates (the ones from Treasure Island no less).
  • Magic Librarian: Mr. Dewey is implied to be the same guy as the Pagemaster himself. They have the same (voice) actor, give the same instructions for Richard to find the exit sign, and are the first and last characters Richard meets at the start and end of his literary journey. The Pagemaster is the god and guardian of the world of books and the reason Richard crossed over.
  • Medium Blending: Trapped in an Animated World
  • Mighty Glacier: The dragon's raw power is matched only by its slooooow advancing.
  • Monster Whale: The albino whale from Moby-Dick puts in an appearance, first appearing on the mural of the library ceiling. When Richard and his friends are traveling over sea, he sees Captain Ahab, whose entire crew is quickly wiped out by the whale, which then circles back to attack Richard's boat as well.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: That sword? The live-action Richard doesn't get it. The animated one does, for a brief time. The cover pictured on this page also features a Frankenstein Monster and a Ghost you never get to meet at all in the movie, and the Pagemaster himself's color schemes is strangely altered.
  • Old, Dark House: Dr. Jekyll lives in a big, dark mansion on the edge of a cliff. While Richard comes across a few ghost stories, the much bigger threat is Jekyll himself once he transforms into Mr. Hyde.
  • Oh, Crap!: Adventure gets one of these, when he realizes that the dragon was right behind him.
    • Earlier in the film, Richard & Co. get a collective one when they see Moby-Dick rising up at them.
  • 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?: Richard wakes up from his adventure in Fictionland. However, at the end the shadows and voices of Adventure, Horror, and Fantasy can be seen and heard in the real world.
  • Ow, My Body Part!: Adventure yells "Ow! Me binding!" after Fantasy smacks him.
  • Pinball Protagonist: The Pagemaster said the whole point was for Richard to face his fears.
  • Pirate: Adventure acts like one, and then they meet real ones (Long John Silver's crew).
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Dr. Jekyll offers Richard a bright green beverage which, when knocked out of his hand, dissolves through the wooden floorboards in a matter of seconds. Moments later, the liquid is revealed to be the potion that turns Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: The movie seems to run on this, and depends somewhat on a passing familiarity with famous literary characters like Dr. Jekyll or Captain Ahab, etc. Siskel & Ebert even felt this was a major flaw; that the film didn't convey to audiences why these characters were so great.
  • Public Domain Character: Tons of them. In fact, none of the worlds that Richard and the books travel through feature any literary characters that debuted in the last seventy-two years (at the time of the film's release date), which means you will definitely see Dr. Jekyll, Captain Ahab, and Long John Silver in this movie, but not Aslan, Bilbo Baggins, or James Bond.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long John Silver, and the Dragon all turn out to have been a part of the Pagemaster's Secret Test of Character. When Richard makes it to the Exit, they congratulate him for facing his fears and overcoming them successfully.
  • Random Events Plot: But seriously, the film is really, really lacking in, shall we say, story structure?
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: They certainly tried to do this, but as many people pointed out, it doesn't really encourage reading, instead name-dropping a few literary classics and using loose approximations of their plots and characters for action scenes.
  • Read the Map Upside Down: Long John Silver avoids this pratfall by not moving from the beach until the treasure map is checked. And when one of his crew reports "It's in the middle, by the waterfall" only to have another argue "No, it's east, by some broccoli", he quickly snags it from them and orients it the right way to discover that both men were wrong.
  • Red Filter of Doom: A particularly gratuitous one during the Captain Ahab sequence.
  • 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.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: When the dragon appears at the climax.
  • Rule of Three: Three challenges and three books, anyone?
  • Secondary Character Title: The Pagemaster is the all-powerful wizard who sends Richard on a journey to overcome his fears. While he sets the plot in motion, he only appears in two brief scenes.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pagemaster


Richard becomes a cartoon

After being knocked out, Richard wakes up to find himself being transformed into an illustrated cartoon by a dragon made of paint, along with the rest of the scenery.

How well does it match the trope?

4.91 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / MediumBlending

Media sources: