For those who grew up in the 90’s, Macaulay Culkin was our childhood. I could care less about Ri$hie Rich, but he made me cry in My Girl, laugh in Uncle Buck, and want to be him in the Home Alone series. When I saw him at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last year, I almost collapsed, afraid that I couldn’t exist in the same space-time as a guy who helped me grow up. Say whatever you want about Culkin’s life as a child actor and beyond, we all owe him a debt that will likely never be paid.
The evidence is in The Pagemaster, one of the most underrated animated treasures of the 1990’s, a film that is currently enjoying its 20th anniversary.
Richard Tyler is a scaredy-cat loser who won’t even go up into the treehouse
Stan Sitwellhis Dad builds for him. He probably emptied out a Sports Authority’s safety equipment section just to ride his bike home. He was me; I was always shit with bikes, and terrified of new experiences. I wouldn’t be comfortable playing sports, games or anything until I was reasonably confident that I’d be one of the best in the class at it. I’m still that way with Pool. Risk was a board game, not something you actually took.
In the midst of a massive storm, Richard finds himself in The Library. Watching it now, the idea of a kid ever going to a library seems quaint, so much more magical/surprising than it was in 1994. Nowadays the library is where the homeless keep warm, or a place where the desperate seek free WIFI and glumly pay to print their resumes. Why else would you be in the library? Shamefully, society reads books on Kindles and iPAD’s, and if we succumb to actual paper-bound books, we order them from Amazon. Why read books for free when we can pay for them? The Pagemaster makes you want the world of your childhood back, when your class would take “field trips” to the library and force you to sign up for a library card, a quasi-religious experience that felt like you were signing up for a cult/skeevy daycare.
The Pagemaster grasps onto the power of books, of reading, of the Library, and paints it as a fantastical realm, with books that are as Alive as you or I. Books are (literally) our friends. Anyone who’s ever had a lonely afternoon reading Harry Potter knows this to be unequivocally true. The Pagemaster trumpets the power of reading, be it Adventure, Fantasy, and even the misunderstood genre of Horror. You could lose yourself into a world, embrace danger, daring and learn about yourself in the process. Pagemaster showed losers you could be a heroic sword-wielding knight who could take on a dragon, even if you looked like Macaulay Culkin, who looked like a big time dweeb in this movie, animated or otherwise:
But by the end, thanks to his Bookish friends, Richard Tyler wasn’t afraid anymore. I said, “I’m not afraid anymore!”
The Pagemaster stars the holy triumvirate of sci-fi actors: Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lloyd and Leonard Nimoy. Or if you want to broaden it to the Mount Rushmore of Sci-Fi, you could throw Whoopi Goldberg in there (Ghost, dudes!), and you’d be wrong. Interestingly, Pagemaster not only stars Captain Picard and Guinan (Whoopi on TNG), but also Robert Picardo (The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager). It’s not hard to see the Star Trek DNA strands weaving throughout Pagemaster.
Patrick Stewart wonderfully plays against type, against his persona and the genre expectation that he’s cultivated, by being Adventure, a Pirate ruffian of a book. Leonard Nimoy similarly subverts our supposition, by being Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a memorable scene:
Whoopi is Whoopi/nobody’s Fantasy, while Christopher Lloyd is Mr. Dewey (get it?), the Librarian AND the Pagemaster, the wizard overlord of Richard’s literary journey that includes Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland. You kind of wish the boy had traveled in more unique worlds; even in 1994 those four were overplayed. Regardless, the Pagemaster is a role that only Christopher Lloyd can play, and one that he probably still could. Like Culkin, Christopher Lloyd was an inextricable link to my childhood, the perfect choice to play the gatekeeper of Magic.
Until recently, Back to the Future was my answer for favorite movie of all-time (now it’s Galaxy Quest). Lloyd’s excitable, brilliant Doc Brown was a massive part of that. But the man was also Uncle Fester in Addams Family and Addams Family Values, Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the Boss Angel in Angels in the Outfield. He was even Rasputin in Anastasia. The guy has his fingerprints all over the most important films from the 1990’s and is the man tasked with showing us the power of imagination, the kind of groan-inducing maxim that I still can’t get enough of.
I could talk about Pagemaster forever. Its unparalleled cast, its shitty animation, that the incomparable Phil Hartman voices Tom Morgan (above), one of Long John Silver’s pirate cohorts, but I’m getting thirsty, and I suspect so are you. So…on with it:
1. Drink whenever Richard Tyler and company jump inside a book.
2. Take a sip for every reference to a storm, and every stormy scene.
3. You gotta drink for every dragon scene. This video is admittedly awful quality, but highlights one of the coolest/creepiest moments from the movie:
4. Whenever we see the library’s “Exit” sign, or Tyler draws it in the sand or something equally pathetic/poignant, drink.
5. Drink whenever Richard is scared.
6. Sip on the drink of your choice whenever Richard wields a sword.
7. Drink whenever we meet a new book.
8. If you ever find yourself reading the title of a book, or recognize a book’s spine, drink, you snob.
9. You best be drinking whenever there’s a book pun. You’ll know it when it happens.
10. Whenever Horror (voiced by Frank Welker) unleashes his dumbass laugh, drink. Also, watch this loving tribute to the most underrated Book in the film:
11. Drink whenever Richard/Culkin adjusts his glasses, or loses them, or all the different things that happens to nerds who wears specs. Consider this the Giles rule, a permanent staple when any character wears glasses. Because they never stop fucking with them.
EXPERT EDITION: Just drink for Christopher Lloyd. Every time. He deserves it.