The Pagemaster (1994)
This was a fascinating look back at something I was certain I’d seen as a kid but when I watched it recently, I realised I had very few memories of it whatsoever.
While The Pagemaster is definitely an animated film it does have some live-action bookending, and while there’s obviously a purpose to the scenes, I’m only gonna focus on the animation of course.
I feel like there would have been high hopes for this one, landing neatly in the middle of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ as it did. Some of the production team included ex-Disney folks and some big names from Hanna-Barbera, who had formed ‘Turner Feature Animation’ which as an entity, only lasted a few years after the release of The Pagemaster.
Now, that might sound like I’m pointing the finger at this movie as a reason for that failure but the film certainly wasn’t bad. I didn’t find it wonderful either, and it’s clearly pitched at a young audience but I think no matter your age, you can feel when certain elements are ‘off’ even if you cannot articulate them at the time. And so it seemed audiences weren’t blown away either, if I look at only the box office.
But there’s some stunning animation in certain parts of the movie, contrasted with some very lifeless HB-looking backgrounds in certain scenes too. The pacing felt uneven to me and despite a big-name voice cast (Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Welker, Leonard Nimoy, Jim Cummings and Phil Hartman among others) I only really feel like Stewart and Cummings nailed it (Lloyd more features in the live action).
Again, it’s not a bad film but the adventure feels little disjointed and choppy in terms of pacing, and to some extent perhaps – the reliance on existing intellectual properties for plot and setting gave it a ‘tired’ feel to me watching it now. Maybe as a kid I liked it a lot more?
But the scenes at sea looked great and the motif of books themselves appearing often as both characters and part of the backdrops was a nice touch I rekcon. I also enjoyed the character design of the pirates as they were clearly by the same hand that made the Sultan’s guards in Aladdin.
The dragon was another stand out but the transformation of Hyde and the Moby Dick scenes were the two highlights with some truly dramatic lighting, easily the most interesting visuals in the movie – and probably worth watching alone, instead going for the whole film if you’re curious.
…and because of these scenes, I’m guess I’ve boosted the film up in the star rating, otherwise I’d be going with 2: