‘The Hero of Color City’
Director: Frank Gladstone
Voices of: Christina Ricci, Owen Wilson
1 Globe (out of 5)
Parents have long been spoiled by family animation that doesn’t forget about grown-ups — product that pity-tosses them pop culture jokes and even sometimes stealth profundity, or simply involves them in the equation to begin with. The greatness of Pixar or Aardman or Studio Ghibli is never more apparent when one encounters a film aimed only at kids. That’s not to say “The Hero of Color City” actually speaks to children. Like a Hanna-Barbera toon, it makes no bones about being made for cynical reasons, recognizing that children will watch anything, so why put in the effort?
“The Hero of Color City” wears its rip-off targets on its sleeve. It’s “Toy Story” but with crayons, crossed with “The Wizard of Oz” — or rather, “Legends of Oz,” the cut-rate, randomly cast, deservedly failed attempt to cash in on a beloved franchise. “Color City” doesn’t muck up hallowed ground, but it’s still unaccountably worse. Christina Ricci leads the vocal cast as Yellow, who is, yes, the yellow crayon. Like her colleagues, she only springs to anthropomorphized life when her child owner is asleep. If a movie about talking crayons seems like the kind of terrible, bastardized idea you would see in a comedy about people who come up with terrible, bastardized ideas, then you’re either in luck because the crayon populace wastes no time jumping into their crayon box and being whisked away through a psychedelic tube to their own magical corporate crayon realm.
There’s something about scary monsters who aren’t scary monsters (one is voiced by Craig Ferguson) who are about to accidentally drain color from Color City, which is really an entire land, with pun-tastic names like “Gluesiana” and “Inkdiana.” Those puns — bad even for those who enjoy punishment, har har — are par for the course here. The wit is such that Ricci’s Yellow is yellow, i.e., a total scaredy-cat. (There’s also a character who’s a borderline libelous ripoff of “The Simpsons”’ Jerry Lewis-y Professor Frink.)
The film finds Yellow learning to stand up for herself, to find the courage that’s buried deep inside her. It’s a lesson so basic and drawn-out it makes one long for the complexity of a “Davy and Goliath” episode, which at least were short and had charmingly handmade stop-motion animation. The designs here are butt-ugly — like cut-scenes from a ’90s video game, and the narrative is gruesomely padded out with forgettable ditties on topics such as how fun it is to ride a bike or to be on a boat. This surreal adventure is making a pit stop in theaters before becoming punishment for misbehaving kids.
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