Thursday, October 2, 2014

Colorful animation about crayons for kids: Frank Gladstone's THE HERO OF COLOR CITY

OK: It's not Pixar. Not even Dreamworks. And forget about the enchanting, mysterious likes of Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman, and the just-out Boxtrolls). No. The new animated movie titled THE HERO OF COLOR CITY is something of a throwback to the simpler days of telling a small story with relative efficiency and simple but hugely colorful animation, using some OK-and-famous voice talent and rolling out a movie that should please undemanding parents and kids. Once, that is, they get past the pretty awful beginning scene in which the crayons come to life and spout some really third-rate dialog. Yikes!

The screenplay is credited to five writers but only one director, so I'll mention him: Frank Gladstone (pictured left), who has done a serviceable job of, well, I guess, putting it all together. The story begins with a young boy involved in his drawing, until it's bedtime and his mom insists he go to sleep -- after which his crayons come to life and head off down a magic chute to a place called Color City. Once there, the movie grow more colorful and things begin to percolate. A minimal plot takes hold and the "character" of various crayons appear. These are more or less based on their colors. Yellow is always scared, red is red hot, white wants to be used more in place of always remaining as background, while black is tired of constantly always being used to make the "outline." You get the picture.

Except that some of these colors/characters seem utterly arbitrary (green and blue, for instance), so it would appear that not a lot of thought went into this screenplay. I took our two grandkids -- age six and nine -- to the press screening, and both enjoyed the film. At 77 minutes, it's just short enough to make the cut, and because the movie does get better as it moves along, it's a tolerable watch.

Of the voices, Christina Ricci's in the lead role of Yellow (above) comes off best. She's got ample screen time and makes the most of her frightened character's learning how to face things and "brave up."

Every children's movie needs an antagonist that the protagonist can bounce off, and Hero of Color City has a pretty good one (a pair, actually) in the drawing of a king and his small sidekick (shown left and center, above) that our sleeping child from the film's beginning has made. When this pair comes to life and chases the crayons onto their home turf, there's a big misunderstanding regarding who this "monster" and his pal really are and what they want.

What the movie does best is toss color at us: everything from full-out primaries to day-glos and more. Especially lovely are the scenes of the multi-colored sea (above). Since part of the plot has to do with colors draining out and disappearing, we lose some of this fun along the way. But never fear: It all comes back again in the end.

This film may even have a larger purpose: As the end credits roll, we're told that kids can now recycle their crayons and give less fortunate children the chance to make use of them (at least I think that's what's being said), along with a web address that offers more information.

The Hero of Color City, the rare animated movie from Magnolia Pictures, opens tomorrow, Friday, October 3, all across the country. Here in New York City, although the film was advertised in this past Sunday's NY Times as opening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, turns out it will play instead at the AMC Empire 25. You can see a listing of all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here and scrolling down.

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