Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joe Johnston (live action)
Pixote Hunt (animation)
|Produced by||David Kirschner
|Screenplay by||David Casci
|Story by||David Kirschner
Ed Begley, Jr.
|Music by||James Horner|
|Cinematography||Alexander Gruszynski (live-action)|
|Editing by||Kaja Fehr (live-action)|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release dates||November 23, 1994|
|Running time||78 minutes|
The Pagemaster is a 1994 live-action/animated fantasy adventure film starring Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Welker and Leonard Nimoy. The film was produced by Turner Pictures and released by 20th Century Fox on November 23, 1994.
The film was written for the screen by David Casci, based on a 6-page pitch by writer Charles Pogue entitled "Library Days," presented to Casci by producer David Kirschner. The film was directed by Joe Johnston (live action) and Pixote Hunt and Glenn Chaika (animation), and produced by David Kirschner and Paul Gertz.
Ten-year-old pessimist Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) lives his life based on statistics and fears just about everything. His exasperated parents (Ed Begley, Jr. and Mel Harris) have tried multiple ways to build up the courage of their son, but to little success. Richard is sent by his father to buy a bag of nails so that he can build a treehouse. However, Richard gets caught in a harsh thunderstorm and takes shelter in a library. Here, he is met by Mr. Dewey (Christopher Lloyd), an eccentric librarian who tries to find a book for Richard and gives him a library card, despite Richard's protests that he doesn't want any books, since he only came here because of the storm. As Richard wanders off by himself, he finds a large rotunda painted with classic fictional characters. Richard slips on some water that had dripped from his coat and falls down, hitting his head and knocking him unconscious. He awakens and finds the rotunda paintings melting, forming a wave of color that transforms him and the library into illustrations.
Richard is approached by the Pagemaster who sends him on a journey into the fiction section to find the "exit". Along the way, Richard befriends three anthropomorphic books: Adventure (Patrick Stewart), a swashbuckling pirate-like book; Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg), a sassy but caring fairy tale book; and Horror (Frank Welker), a fearful "Hunchbook" with a misshapen spine. The three agree to help Richard to find his way out if he checks them out with his library card. Together, the quartet encounter classic-fictional characters. They meet Dr. Jekyll (Leonard Nimoy) in a haunted house where he then turns into Mr. Hyde and terrorizes the group, driving them to the roof where they then head out into open waters to the Land of Adventure. However, the group are separated after an attack by Moby Dick. Richard and Adventure are picked up by the crew of the Hispaniola, captained by Long John Silver (Jim Cummings). The pirates go to Treasure Island, but find no treasure, nearly causing a mutiny between the captain and crew. Fantasy and Horror appear and defeat the pirates. Silver attempts to take Richard with him, but he retreats when Richard threatens him with a sword. Adventure insults Horror, causing the hunchbook to get captured by Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels. Adventure saves him and they make up.
As the group travels through the fantasy section, Richard sees the exit sign on the top of a mountain. However, a sleeping dragon is awakened and chases Richard and his friends. Richard tries to fight the dragon with a sword and shield, but the dragon swallows him whole. Richard finds books in the dragon's stomach and uses a beanstalk to escape, he then jumps and the Dragon bites the beanstalk defeating him. The heroes arrive at the top and enter a large dark room where the Pagemaster awaits them. Richard berates the Pagemaster for the horrors he has suffered, but the Pagemaster reveals that the journey was intended to make Richard face his fears. Dr. Jekyll, Captain Ahab, Long John Silver and the dragon reappear in a magical twister congratulating him. Richard then awakens, discovering that he had been "unconscious" all along. Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror all appear next to him as real books. Mr. Dewey finds him, and, even though the library policy only allows a person to check out two books at time, lets him check out all three books "just this once" as Richard may not have been unconscious and may actually have witnessed all the events that happened, thus making Mr. Dewey the Pagemaster. Richard returns home a braver kid, sleeping in his new treehouse. Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror appear as silhouettes on a wall talking.
- Macaulay Culkin as Richard Tyler: A young boy who seems to have fear of everything and runs his life based on safety statistics.
- Christopher Lloyd as Mr. Dewey/The Pagemaster: The eccentric librarian and caretaker of a seemingly abandoned library. Mr. Dewey's alternate form is the Pagemaster, Keeper of the Books and Guardian of the Written World.
- Ed Begley, Jr. and Mel Harris as Alan and Claire Tyler: Richard's supportive parents. Alan considers himself a bad father due to his continuous failed attempts to help Richard get over his fears.
- Patrick Stewart as Adventure: A swashbuckling thriller book resembling a stereotypical pirate.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Fantasy: A fairy tale-styled book. She can be aggressive and hotheaded.
- Frank Welker as Horror: Despite his name, he is quite the opposite of horrific.
- Leonard Nimoy as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The fictional scientist who turned into the horrific monster.
- George Hearn as Captain Ahab: An almost psychotic whale hunter who is out to kill the giant whale, Moby Dick.
- Jim Cummings as Long John Silver: The infamous usurper Captain of the Hispaniola.
- Phil Hartman as Tom Morgan: A violent pirate on the Hispaniola.
- Ed Gilbert as George Merry: An obese and ugly pirate on the Hispaniola.
- B.J. Ward as The Queen of Hearts: The tyrannical ruler of Wonderland.
- Dorian Harewood, Richard Erdman, Fernando Escandon, and Robert Picardo as Various pirates on the Hispaniola.
- Frank Welker, as the dragon, the final and most powerful adversary in the climax and the main antagonist.
The screenwriting credits for this film were the subject of a protracted legal arbitration with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) when its producer, David Kirschner, attempted to claim sole authorship of the screenplay and original story, with no credit for its original screenwriter, David Casci. Typically, proposed credits are submitted to the WGA for approval well in advance of the release of a movie or the publishing of posters or novelizations on which writing credits appear. In the case of The Pagemaster, the producers attempted to claim that, as the film was now largely animated, the WGA did not have jurisdiction to determine credits. Casci had written the screenplay under a WGA contract, as well as previous live-action versions for Disney Television dating back to 1985, also written under WGA contract. These facts positioned the WGA to get involved, testing their tenuous authority over a feature film with animated elements.
After lengthy investigation and interviews with those intimately familiar with the genesis of the Pagemaster project, including three persons within Kirschner's own office, the WGA credit arbitration process determined that David Casci was, in fact, the primary writer, and that Mr. Kirschner did not provide a sufficient creative contribution to the writing process to warrant any screenwriting credit. Upon receiving this determination by the WGA, Fox threatened to pull out of arbitration and release the film without WGA-approved credits, positioning the WGA to be forced to file an injunction blocking the film's heavily promoted Christmas season release.
Ultimately, a settlement was reached, and Fox released the film with both Kirschner and Casci receiving story and screenplay credit, with a third writer, Ernie Contreras, also receiving screenplay credit.
At the time, this case was the most expensive and extensive investigation of its type undertaken by the WGA on behalf of one of its members.
The Pagemaster took three years to produce; the animation in the film was produced by Turner Feature Animation, headed by David Kirschner and recently spun off from Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. The crew included animators who were veterans of productions such as An American Tail (also produced by David Kirschner), The Land Before Time and Aladdin. This was one of the first films to feature live-action, traditional animation, and CGI animation all together. One scene involving a computer generated dragon made from paint was used, a challenge for the filmmakers. All of the fictional works featured in the film were created and first published before January 1, 1923, making them a part of the public domain in most countries. The theme songs to the movie are "Dream Away", sung by Babyface and Lisa Stansfield; the other being "Whatever You Imagine", sung by Wendy Moten.
The majority of the cast has appeared in a role in the Star Trek universe: Patrick Stewart played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Whoopi Goldberg played Guinan, Leonard Nimoy played Mr. Spock, Christopher Lloyd played Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Ed Begley, Jr. played Henry Starling in a two-part episode of Star Trek: Voyager, George Hearn played Dr. Berel in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and B.J. Ward played numerous characters in Star Trek computer games as did Jim Cummings. Composer James Horner was also the composer for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Frank Welker voiced Spock's screams in Star Trek III and the alien creature in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Nothing Human". Robert Picardo played The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.
Promotional advertisements for this film used the theme from the 1984 film The Last Starfighter.
Casci's original screenplay included a story arc for the protagonist, Richard Tyler (played by Macaulay Culkin), who begins the tale as a boy who hates reading, but by the end of the film, learns to love reading. The revised screenplay by Contreras and Kirschner omitted the reading-themed story arc, instead emphasizing the boy's journey from cowardice to courage.
According to the film's animation crew, the film went over budget during animation production due to mismanagement and changes to the narrative. The 2001 book Producing Animation by Catherine Winder and Zahra Dowlatbadi (Johnston's assistant on The Pagemaster) recommends against making story changes during the animation process.
Reception and release
The film was a production by Turner Pictures. Fox handled U.S. distribution, while Turner Pictures Worldwide handled international and worldwide television distribution. Turner Broadcasting handles telecast rights of the film to be aired on their variety of television networks (including Cartoon Network). Warner Bros. now handles international and worldwide television distribution to the film as a result of the Turner/Time Warner merger in 1996 since Network.
The film grossed $13,670,688 in theaters, making it a box office bomb, from its $21 million budget. Film merchandise was sold, bendable figures and soft toys of the main characters, t-shirts, and a Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and SNES game of the same title as well as a PC game. A behind-the-scenes documentary was produced, hosted by Christopher Lloyd playing his character of Mr. Dewey. The film was released on VHS and LaserDisc worldwide on April 4, 1995 (by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; internationally by Turner Home Entertainment or Columbia TriStar Home Video). The Pagemaster earned a Razzie Award nomination for Macaulay Culkin as Worst Actor for his performance in the movie (also for Getting Even with Dad and Richie Rich) but lost the award to Kevin Costner for Wyatt Earp.
The film received generally negative reviews, scoring an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times criticized the way the film's message came across, calling it a "sad and dreary film," adding that its message seemed to be that "books can be almost as much fun as TV cartoons and video arcade games." Brian Lowry of Variety said that the film's principal appeal for adults would be its abbreviated running time, and that it did not do enough with its famous fictional characters, although he noted that, "A more inspired moment has Richard using a book, 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' to escape from the belly of a dragon. Unfortunately, such moments are few and far between." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post, however, gave the film a positive review, calling it a "splendidly original children's fantasy about the world of books."  James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave another positive review, calling it a "clever, often engaging, and always fast-paced motion picture" that "uses the visual medium to encourage its viewers to reach out with their imagination."
Contrary to any claims, the screenplay and film are not based on any book. David Casci's screenplay preceded all novelizations and illustrated books by several years.
A number of books based on the film exist, including an illustrated book attributed to David Kirschner and Ernie Contreras, illustrated by Jerry Tiritilli, which contained large passages from the Casci screenplay without giving Casci writing credit. The film was well into production by the time this book was introduced in the 1993 F. A. O. Schwarz Christmas Catalog. Other properties based on the film include children's story books, pop-up books and other film ancillaries such as toys and games.
In 1995, David Kirschner's novel version of The Pagemaster won the Books I Love Best Yearly: Younger Readers Award in Australia (see bottom of page).
There are several smaller allusions to poems, books, and rhymes in the movie in addition to the more obvious ones:
- Adventure intentionally opens Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne in order to release a giant squid.
- Richard, Adventure, and Fantasy are pursued briefly by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles when Richard opens the hound's book.
- Above the doorway of Dr. Jekyll's mansion, a raven calls out "nevermore" and then flies off. Both the raven and the doorway are references to the poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.
- Horror calls out "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" as he is being dragged into a hole in the floor by Mr. Hyde. This is an allusion to Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which is set in a time period when churches offered limited sanctuary from arrest.
- The small figures who tie down Horror on the beach are Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
- The magic carpet that appears when Fantasy uses the story of Arabian Nights to help escape from the dragon is from her 1001st page, a nod to The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (an alternate name for Arabian Nights).
- While inside the belly of the dragon, Richard opens Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, releasing The Queen of Hearts who shouts "off with his head!".
- There are brief appearances by Mother Goose and Humpty Dumpty, two well-known nursery rhyme characters.
- Fantasy claims that she wears "Little Mermaid underwear", a reference to either Hans Christian Andersen's story, or the Disney animated film. The colour schemes of the scene of Triton destroying a statue of Eric from the latter is referenced when Ahab spots Moby Dick.
- There is a direct reference to Cinderella in the background as Fantasy is introduced. Fantasy herself is also allusion to Cinderella, as she wears glass slippers.
- There is a possible reference of Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio, as Richard is still alive inside the Dragon's stomach just like Pinocchio in the belly of The Terrible Dogfish.
- There are two references to The Wizard of Oz - once when Richard asks Fantasy if he has to "click his heels" in order to go home, and again when the characters are seen walking on a yellow brick road.
- There are two references to A Christmas Carol - the first when Richard slides down the hallway and we hear some dialogue of the introduction to the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the other when Richard, Adventure and Fantasy walk in a graveyard and one of the graves says "Jacob Marley", and even has chains.
- There are two references to Jack and the Beanstalk - the first when Richard slides down the hallway and we hear the giant roaring Fe, Fie, Fo, Fum, and when Richard uses a copy of Jack and the Beanstalk to grow the titular beanstalk out of the dragon's mouth.
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand features on screen toward the climax, amongst a pile of giant books that fall on the characters. When Richard lifts the book off him, he lifts it in a way reminiscent of Atlas lifting the celestial sphere.
- Various other books are seen on screen, though no explicit reference to these are made. These include The Shining and Salem's Lot by Stephen King, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelly Frankenstein's Monster does not appear in the movie, but is seen in the 1994 sneak peek trailer, deleted scene and behind the scenes, and video games.
- Rainer, Peter (1994-11-23). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Pagemaster' a Live-Action Adventure in World of Books". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- WGAw official case # 94SR002
- Snow, Shauna (1997-12-13). "Morning Report". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- The Making of The Pagemaster
- "Company Town". Los Angeles Times. 1994-08-09.
- The Pagemaster (11⁄2)
- Lowry, Brian (1994-11-21). "The Pagemaster". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- "The Pagemaster". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- The Pagemaster at the Internet Movie Database
- The Pagemaster at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- The Pagemaster at allmovie
- The Pagemaster at Box Office Mojo
- The Pagemaster at Rotten Tomatoes