Cheerfully exhorting imagination, creativity and bravery in children while demonstrating none of those virtues itself, “The Hero of Color City” proves to be a dispiritingly colorless feature-length babysitter. A tale of talking crayons embarking on an adventure of self-actualization in their native land of Color City, the cheaply animated pic plays as if someone pitched the idea “‘Toy Story’ … with crayons!” and decided no further development was needed. Embracing a day-and-date release strategy rarely utilized for kidpics, Magnolia Pictures clearly hopes to cash in on parents too tired or distracted to fully research their home-entertainment options. Nevertheless, returns should be minimal and word of mouth nonexistent.
Lacking any of the visual sophistication customary in contemporary bigscreen toons, “The Hero of Color City” more closely resembles the by-the-numbers smallscreen product churned out overseas to fill time on countless tyke-oriented cable channels. The youngest members of the film’s target audience aren’t likely to care much about the lack of craft here, but grown-ups will immediately spot a generic rip-off and tune out accordingly. They won’t be missing much.
The rudimentary storyline follows Yellow (voiced by Christina Ricci), a slightly timid crayon gently forced to face her fears. By day, Yellow and her fellow crayons are the property of a 6-year-old boy who loves to draw, but when he goes to sleep at night the crayons come alive. Their box serves as a magical rainbow portal to Color City — a quaint small town along the lines of a less evocative Candyland — where crayons of all colors can relax at a local spa that restores their tips to mint condition. (This really isn’t the sort of movie prepared to handle an existential crisis over finite crayon lifespans. Instead, the various colors are only unhappy when they’re not being used.)
When Yellow unwittingly releases a pair of her owner’s unfinished doodles from their sheet of paper — monstrous mute King Scrawl and his wisecracking sidekick Gnat (Craig Ferguson) — they follow her into Color City and proceed to hog the local color supply for themselves. So Yellow sets out with five pals — heroic Blue (Wayne Brady), sassy Red (Rosie Perez), brainy Green (Jess Harnell), nervous White (Jeremy Guskin) and pessimistic Black (David Kaye) — to save the day and learn some important lessons about friendship, compassion and self-confidence in the process.
It’s all admittedly harmless if utterly uninspired stuff under the direction of veteran animation exec Frank Gladstone (who happens to be the current head of the org behind the annual Annie Awards). No fewer than four scribes are credited for a screenplay that might very well have been written in crayon as evidenced by minor characters like crotchety old Grey (who complains about “hippity hop music”) and the gaseous Refried Bean (yes, not even a movie about crayons is above a few fart jokes). Blue’s bashful admission, “When I blush I turn purple,” reps the height of wit on display.
“The Hero of Color City” would be easy enough for parents (and kids) to doze in and out of if not for the intermittent inclusion of a few grating original songs united only by their inane lyrics and ear-wracking melodies (and mostly warbled by Yellow, with Tara Strong subbing in for Ricci on singing duties). Those tunes and obnoxious minor character Professor Heliotrope (voiced by Guskin and blatantly modeled on “The Simpsons'” Professor Frink, himself inspired by Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor”) are easily the film’s most off-putting elements.
Perez and Ferguson emerge as the relative standouts among a bland vocal cast. The oddly downplayed involvement of Owen Wilson in a minor voiceover role appears to stem from the film’s link to a charitable cause dubbed Crayon Collection, which the actor endorses (in character) in a clumsy PSA tacked onto the end credits.