22 February 2002 | pirate1_power
From the twilight of a legend gone too soon....
Many of the titles featured in this Internet Movie Database represent films that for various reasons are welcomed with scorn regardless of the good intentions of their creators. One such film is David Kirschner's "The Pagemaster," created by him as a means to share with his two daughters, Alexis and Jessica (both of whom, by the way, have cameos in the film), the wonder of reading. The story was born out of a clandestine visit by David, Lexie and Jess Kirschner to the New York Public Library's Center for the Humanities (the Headquarters Branch). Both Kirschner girls were little back then, and Dad ran Hanna-Barbera at the time. But what those two chldren took out of that visit was a spectacular sense of wonder --- and, consequently, that's how their father developed the idea for "The Pagemaster."
Some 3 1/2 years later, the result of David's concept stands as a spectacularly imaginative adventure where the joy of reading is made manifest within the simple space of 75 minutes. What a lot of people grumble about, as far as this film is concerned, is the fact that this was Macaulay Culkin's penultimate appearance as a child actor. There were many in and out of Hollywood who wanted to see his career implode; and part of that, as we all know by now, was due to the bitter divorce and custdy battles between his parents. That, more than anything, was the lynchpin of the disgust most of us had for this kid.
And what of the film itself? Well, the story of Richard Tyler still enchants me, if it doesn't anyone else. Who wouldn't want to have adventures with three delightful book characters representing their namesake genres --- Adventure (Patrick Stewart), Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg) and Horror (Frank Welker)? Not only that, encountering both Jekyll and Hyde (Leonard Nimoy), Captain Ahab (George Hearn), Long John Silver (Jim Cummings) .... and a fire-breathing dragon --- and taking them on any way you can is perfect fodder for an 11-year-old constantly fearing the world around him.
One particularly funny line in the film comes in the live-action prologue, co-starring Ed Begley, Jr. and Mel Harris as Richard's parents. Alan, the father (Begley), recalls to his wife Claire (Harris) the day he signed his son up for Little League Baseball: "...he drove everybody crazy with statistics about how you can get a blood clot just by being hit on the head with a ball. 'Did you know that shin-splints can lead to blood clots in the legs?' Claire, he brought in a medical journal! Nobody wanted to play after that! And now, I'm building him a treehouse in a tree he refuses to climb!" Looking back, it's not how Begley utters that line, but rather, it is the way he delivers it that makes me laugh.
And then, there's James Horner's delightful score, punctuated by the central theme tune --- recorded as a single by Capitol recording artist Wendy Moten. Entitled "Whatever You Imagine," the song, with lyrics by the indefatigable Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was even nominated for a Grammy, which, alas, it didn't win. But the tune was eventually embraced by yours truly; and has since been adopted as Blackwolf the Dragonmaster's personal song.
These are just some of the special memories I have about "The Pagemaster." But of course, it is the Pagemaster himself, voiced and spoken by Christopher Lloyd, who drives home the story's central point. It is he, more than anyone else, who gives Richard Tyler the strength he needs to confront his own fears, regardless of the world around him. The result, of course, is that, by the time our tale ends, Richard becomes a stronger and better person --- all thanks to the magic of books. I sincerely believe that, given the current popularity of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books, the wisdom of the Pagemaster is paying off, long after the film has been forgotten. After all, without books, we couldn't take on the imagination in our own way fearlessly. And that, I think, is as much reward as a young person needs in this world. 'Nuff said.