The forgotten film of Macaulay Culkin with which I discovered the love of reading

Macaulay Culkin is back in the news thanks to its participation in the tenth season of American Horror Story, recently released on Disney +. The former child star returns after some time away from the screen (save for the occasional sporadic project) with a juicy role in the popular anthology series of Ryan Murphy, an expert in rescuing old glories and giving a second life to their careers.

Therefore, taking advantage of the celebrated return of the actor from Home alone, touch remember one of his last films before his famous retirement in the mid-90s, when he was still a child. And I’m not talking about Rich boy, ni de The good son, but a small fantastic movie that went much more unnoticed and ended up falling into oblivion, but that I keep in a special place for firing my imagination and encouraging me to discover the love of reading: The keeper of words.

Poster for ‘The Guardian of Words’ (1994, Turner Pictures, Hanna-Barbera, 20th Century)

We have to go back to 1994, the year that Macaulay Culkin said “enough” with only 14 years. Shortly after the box office fiasco of Rich boy, the child prodigy left acting and legally emancipated himself from his parents, with whom he engaged in a notorious legal battle for his custody and fortune. In his later years as a child actor, His star faded with less and less successful projects and the world made it clear to him that it was not interested in seeing him grow. But before abandoning his career, he left us a few titles that some of us remember fondly despite their commercial failure, including the film that concerns us today.

The keeper of words it’s a hybrid of live image and animation in which Macaulay plays a fearful boy obsessed with accident statistics who embarks on a dangerous adventure through the fantastic genres of literature, personified in a trio of talking books (Fantasy, Horror and Adventure), to find your worth. The film is directed by Joe Johnston and the Disney animator Pixote Hunt. Johnston – maker of classics for the whole family like Darling, I shrunk the kids O Jumanji, in addition to the first installment of Captain America– He did the live action scenes, while Hunt took care of the animated parts.

The film, produced by Turner Pictures and Hanna-Barbera, had an exceptional cast to accompany little Culkin, with the claim of Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown himself from Return to the future) and Ed Begley Jr. in the flesh and blood part, and the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Stewart and Leonard Nimoy giving life to the animated characters. The film featured animators who had worked on much-loved productions of the ’80s and’ 90s such as Fievel and the new world, In search of the enchanted valley and Aladdin, and stood out for being one of the first to use live action, traditional animation and CGI in the same project.

However, the experience of the animators who worked on it was anything but positive. The production went beyond the approved budget and numerous changes had to be made to the story during the animation process, which was a headache for the artists and ended up being reflected in the final result. What’s more, Johnston later revealed that the studio had retouched the montage and removed scenes without his permission, which led him to deny it and cross it out of his filmography.. And as if that weren’t enough, the film was embroiled in a legal dispute when producer David Kirschner tried to take credit for creating the story himself, denying credit to the other original screenwriter, David Casci.

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The rugged production of The keeper of words it was settled in its premiere with negative reviews and a disastrous box office gross of $ 13.16 million (€ 11.77 million; Box Office Mojo), with a budget of $ 34 million (€ 30 million), assuming huge losses for the studio and thus ushering in the decline of Macaulay Culkin as a child star and box office magnet. In fact, the actor received a (cruel) Razzie nomination for his performance in it, shared with Hand in hand with dad and Rich kid, of the same year. Finally, after passing through cinemas and home video, the film disappeared from the collective memory and for many it was as if it never existed.

But was it really that bad? I admit that I am not the most objective person, since after seeing her in the cinema (I remember that there were not even five people in the room), they bought me the novelization -which I read several times-, I got it on VHS and it became on one of the bedside movies of my late childhood, the kind that I returned to again and again. I knew it by heart. And even with all that, I recognize that it is difficult to defend it. Even at that time, my mind, with hardly any critical judgment, noticed that it was not as good as others, the animation did not reach the level of other studios, it always fell short (it barely exceeded an hour of footage) and when it was over, it left me feeling like he could have given so much more of himself. But still, there was a strange magic in her that hooked me and wouldn’t let go.

Above all, what I owe to The keeper of words it is to have fostered my passion for reading, and specifically for fantastic stories. Ever since Richard (Culkin’s character) entered the majestic library where the action took place and an animated multicolored wave transported him to that fantasy world inspired by fantasy literature, full of pirates, dragons and monsters, I was filled with a feeling of curiosity and illusion that I would later recognize in books. Thanks to her, the library became a place where everything was possible And, although the ones that I had at my fingertips had nothing to do with the one in the film, I soon understood the treasures they were hiding. Something very similar to what The endless story I had done a few years before, in the 80s, with a very similar message about books and fantasy.

The keeper of words travels through different lands that correspond to various genres of literature, adventure stories, horror stories and fairy tales, paying homage with its different passages to classics such as The island of the treasure, Moby Dick, Alice in Wonderland and the one that impacted me the most, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydeby Robert Louis Stevenson, which became one of the first adult books I read. While Richard found his courage through the stories, I found my refuge in them, reflecting myself as he did in the pages.

For all this I owe a lot to this film, although I can never defend it as a masterpiece or anything like that. More than 25 years after its premiere, few remember The keeper of words (although those who do, keep a great affection for it) and we do not even have the opportunity to rediscover it in the age of streaming because no platform has it in its catalog in Spain. I understand that neither Joe Johnston nor Macaulay Culkin are especially proud of her, but I would love to tell you that, Despite the bad reviews and the hit at the box office that tarnish his memory, it had a very positive impact on the life of at least one person. And I am sure that I am not alone.

The most painful thing about the failure of The keeper of words it’s your wasted potential. Its premise could have given much of itself, but it was left half and, after sinking at the box office, it was completely abandoned. If there is a movie I would like to see a remake of or a series of, this is it. I think if it were done today, it would give better results and it would get much more out of it, but no one in Hollywood would want to touch a property that only four cats remember. Therefore, despite being tremendously imperfect, I can only vindicate it as the story full of imagination that turned my love for animation into a love for reading. It won’t be a movie classic, but it is a classic for me.

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