Much like Curious George and The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, The Hero of Color City is a film that intentionally caters to very young audiences. If you’re reading this review right now, you’re definitely too old for it – and this is in spite of strategically placed jokes that children are very unlikely to get, such as a visual reference to King Kong, or the fact that one of the characters is physically and vocally modeled after Jerry Lewis and his role in The Nutty Professor, or a steamboat called the S.S. RGB Huey, and for that explanation, I invite you to seek out the nearest computer programmer or web designer. This particular animated feature is only for the little ones. It tells an innocent, uncomplicated story, it has lots of bright colors and fun shapes, and the characters are broadly defined and easy for children to tell apart.
It’s not so much that I’m recommending it. It’s just that I recognize what audience the filmmakers had in mind, and I believe said audience should manage to get something out of it, if only for the seventy-six minutes it runs. It tells the story of a group of crayons that magically come to life in the room of a six-year-old boy after he falls asleep. The box in which they’re stored doubles as a portal to the vivid world of Color City, where crayons go to the local spa, seemingly for free, to soak in bubblebath and have the dulled tips of their heads repointed. Their happy existence is threatened by two crude drawings, made by the six-year-old just minutes before he fell asleep; longing for the colorization they were denied, they block the city’s nourishing flow of liquid rainbow colors high atop a mountain. Without color, the crayons are doomed to fade into a transparent oblivion.
Venturing forth to stop the drawings are a band of crayons with personality quirks that were obviously influenced by whatever color they happen to be. Let’s start with Blue (voiced by Wayne Brady), who’s cool and adventurous but not necessarily the best at planning ahead. Then there’s Green (voiced by Jess Harnell), who’s orderly and exacting, and would prefer it if the boy who uses them to draw with would stay inside the lines. There’s Red (voiced by Rosie Perez), who’s fiery and opinionated, at times a little too much so. We also have brothers White (voiced by Jeremy Guskin) and Black (voiced by David Kaye), the former prone to telling little white lies out of desperation over not having been used for a drawing, the latter, like Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame, a dour and pessimistic soul with a low, monotone voice.
And then there’s the protagonist, Yellow (voiced by Christina Ricci), who, as her color suggests, is afraid of everything, from monsters to the dark to taking chances. She had no intention of taking part in the mission to stop the living drawings; she accidentally involved herself when the steamboat transporting the participating crayons prematurely left its harbor. As their adventure progresses, taking Yellow and her friends from white-water rapids to a vast desert to a habitat for more of the six-year-old’s unfinished drawings (voiced by the likes of Owen Wilson, Jessica Capshaw, and Sean Astin), it becomes clear that Yellow, in spite of her fears, is in charge. She does, after all, know exactly what each crayon is best suited to do given their personal attributes. Is she herself best suited to handle this particular situation?
Strange, that the title should act as the film’s own spoiler and also be something of a misnomer, since Yellow’s heroism doesn’t at all involve fighting against the forces of evil. Indeed, the film is so innocent that even the villains aren’t made to be even remotely villainous. The two living drawings – one a king who wasn’t given a mouth and therefore can only mumble, the other a bizarre winged monster hybrid named Nat (voiced by Craig Ferguson) – are misunderstood creatures that simply want to be colorized and don’t want to hurt anybody. The question is, will Yellow or any of her friends learn this about them? Do they want to learn, or are they just prejudiced? One of the film’s many child-friendly themes, and this should come as no surprise, is learning to listen and not being so quick to fear what they know nothing about.
Only a grouch would point out that the film’s animation is barely on par with a Disney Junior cartoon series, or that the three featured songs are generic and unmemorable, or that the DVD release will, for some children, open the door to repeat home viewings that parents will have no choice but to share in. If you cannot accept the fact that The Hero of Color City quite obviously wasn’t made with adults in mind, you have only yourself to blame if you take your child to see it. It might help you to know that, if you can muster your way through the end credits, which includes a PSA for www.crayoncollection.org and its crayon-recycling program, the filmmakers have placed an amusing and appropriate alteration of the statement regarding the resemblances to persons living or dead.