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A movie directed by Joe Johnston

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"Look to the Books!"

  • Jan 1, 2002
Pros: All-around great kids flick. Great messages and good humor.

Cons: Animation didn't really blow me away and the soundtrack was barely worth listening to.

The Bottom Line: An imaginative film containing Fantasy, Horror, and Adventure. It encourages children to read, face fears, and believe in themselves...what more could you ask?

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

We are all just simple mortals in a wide dangerous world. Life can be glorious but our hold on it is tenuous at best. Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) is a young man who sees the potential for harm in everything around him and is living in fear of the next accident he sure is just waiting to happen. His father (Ed Begley Jr.) tries hard to be understanding, but he also knows that a life lived in fear is not much of a life at all. In an inventive attempt to give his son a place to start overcoming his fears, he is building a treehouse for Richard. Encouraging him to spread his wings, Mr. Tyler sends Richard off for more nails. Neither of them could have dreamed that this would lead Richard down a path of self discovery.

Richard dutifully sets off for the hardware store on his bicycle. Well, we assume it is a bicycle underneath all of the reflectors, protective shields, reflective tape, and flashing lights that Richard has obviously used to modify it for greater safety. Anyway, the odds are stacked against him and a strange storm soon herds him into the safety of the public library. Here, the mystical librarian (Christopher Lloyd) of this marvelous library looks into his heart and sees what he really needs.

“You’re here for a special book, aren’t you? Let me guess, I have a knack for this sort of thing…” Mr. Dewey guesses fantasy first, with magical swords, faeries, and mighty wizards. Speechless, Richard shakes his head. Adventure then, with cutthroat pirates and brave heroes. Richard’s eyes widen further and he shakes his head again, backing up before the enthusiasm of this strange man. Horror! Wicked deeds, ghosts, and graveyards…”Yes, it’s Horror for you, boy. I’m certain of it” He proclaims. Richard finally manages to find his voice and assure the librarian that he only came in to use the phone. The librarian is obviously disappointed but directs our unlikely hero after pressing a library card into his hands.

In the center of this beautiful library is a stunning mural depicting great scenes and figures from classic literature and in their midst is a wise and benevolent rendering of a wizard who looks suspiciously like the odd librarian. This is when things start to turn seriously strange for young Richard. Dramatically transformed into an illustration, he is drawn into the world of literature. Here he must learn certain lessons to reach the Exit sign which will take him back to the real world. He meets and is befriended by three books who act as his guides.

Adventure (voiced by Patrick Stewart) with his cutlass, pegleg, and bold demeanor is always looking for a fight. Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg), who was mis-shelved, alternates between optimism, down-to-earth observations, and somewhat dry wit. Things might have been easier for them all if only her wand would work properly outside of the fantasy section. And last, Horror who looks far more frightening than he could ever hope to be. Ironically, Horror is the only one who seems to find more things to be afraid of than even Richard thought possible. Horror teaches us that all important lesson, Never judge a book by its cover. Together, can they win through the perils of the library and help Richard to discover the self-confidence locked away behind his fears? Only the Pagemaster knows for sure!

This is a marvelous film which encourages children to face their fears, believe in themselves, introduces them to some of the most famous literary figures, opens up a world of endless possibilities to innocent eyes, and promotes one of my personal passions, reading. While I have seen plenty of films that were more dazzlingly animated, I have rarely seen a film that gives so much to the thirsty minds of young viewers. I’ll admit that I am not fond of Macaulay Culkin, but there is nothing in his performance here which could flaw this lovely film. The humor appeals to kids as well as adults and I was especially tickled by the banter between the Books.

“I’m Adventure!” the little swashbuckler declares indignantly.
“Honey, they All say that!” Fantasy replies.

This film was released to video in 1994, is rated G for general audience, and is perhaps best suited for children around the age of seven. In timeless fairytale fashion, a story of self-discovery is revealed with a few scenes to challenge the more timid children. The section of the library that houses ghost stories is, of course, haunted, and their meeting with Dr. Jekyll can be a bit of an eye opener. However, I personally have seen at least three children, who were rather on the apprehensive side themselves, blossom after seeing this film. They also learned that the two best places to look for answers are within themselves and hidden in the pages of books.


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8

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About the reviewer
Quinn Blackburn ()
Ranked #125
Hello, my name is Quinn. :o) I also answer to Mom, YaYa, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe these to be true and sacred things … more
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About this movie


A paranoid young boy is swept into the animated worlds of fantasy, horror and adventure when he trapped inside a public library. Guided by three books, he battles his way to the exit and conquers his fears along the way. Features the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Stewart, Leonard Nimoy and more.
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Director: Joe Johnston
Release Date: 1994
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 1hr 16min
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