That's because "The Pagemaster" is largely an animated feature, and feature-length cartoons take about three years to produce. So, Culkin's live-action scenes were filmed about three years ago.

The second thing that may strike you, as the film becomes a cartoon in earnest, is that the animation is lovely, quite fluid and classical, right down to Culkin's character, which would be at home in a "Home Alone" cartoon series.

And finally, and perhaps most significantly, you will notice that despite all the elaborate trappings, "The Pagemaster" just isn't clever or funny enough to fulfill its ambitions.

If all you want is a movie that promotes books and reading, go rent "The NeverEnding Story." If you're looking for a new big-screen animated feature for family viewing over the holidays, go see "The Swan Princess."

"The Pagemaster's" problems can be easily traced back to the screenplay, which simply lacks anything remotely resembling wit.

The film begins in live-action form, as Culkin's character, Richard Tyler, is shown to be an egghead fraidy-cat. And his parents (Ed Begley Jr., Mel Harris) are concerned about him.

Dad is building a treehouse, which Richard refuses to climb, quoting statistics on the number of accidents that involve ladders. Then, when his father sends him to the local hardware store for some nails, Richard runs into a heavy rainstorm and seeks shelter in the local library. There, he meets spooky Mr. Dewey (Christopher Lloyd), who tries to explain that books hold the key to all the excitement one could imagine. But Richard, of course, doesn't want excitement - he just wants to go home.

On his way toward the exit, however, Richard slips and falls, knocks himself unconscious, and the film becomes a cartoon as an animated Richard is sent on a journey by a wizard of sorts, "The Pagemaster" (also Christopher Lloyd).

In this "dream state," Richard finds himself joined by three companions, talking books that represent different genres - "Ad-ven-ture" (voiced by Patrick Stewart as a stereotypical pirate), "Fantasy" (Whoopi Goldberg as a "Blue Fairy" variation) and "Horror" (a scary-looking character who is actually more frightened than frightening, voiced by Frank Welker).

Together, they take a "Wizard of Oz"-like trek, looking for the exit and running into literary characters along the way - "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (Leonard Nimoy), Capt. Ahab and "Moby Dick," Long John Silver on "Treasure Island," etc.

Though cleverly animated, these sequences lack any dramatic or comic point. Aside from a few lame attempts at humor by Goldberg, Stewart and Welker - attempts that sound like ad libs - the filmmakers seem satisfied simply to have re-created moments from classic books.

But that's simply not enough to make a movie interesting for kids or parents. And the film drags on for what seems like hours . . . though it is actually just a scant 75 minutes.

The players - and especially the voice actors - seem to be having fun, but that sense of fun does not translate to the audience.

"The Pagemaster" is rated G, but does have some scary moments that may frighten little ones.