RATING |

It's not exactly chic to evaluate movies in economic terms - how much entertainment you get for your dollar.

But that particular vulgarity might be excused in the case of Frank Gladstone's The Hero of Color City, a weak Toy Story-esque animated film for preschool kids made with little imagination, little art, and even less soul.

A computer-generated ditty that has enough substance for only a TV episode, Hero is about a box of crayons that comes alive each night when its young owner falls asleep.

An avid artist, Ben spends his evenings drawing all kinds of cool things - cars, cows, dragons, kings - coloring them in with his large box of crayons.

When Ben drifts off to sleep, each stick of color sprouts arms, legs, and a face and rushes back to the box. Once assembled - Brown (voice of Tom Lowell) takes roll call - they jump en masse into the box, and through a magic portal that takes them to the home city of the Crayon species, Color City, where they lounge around (they have their own spa), swim, and play.

Things go wrong one night when Yellow (Christina Ricci), who happens to be a real scaredy cat, doesn't make it to the box in time. Terrified of her own shadow, she almost loses her marbles when one of Ben's unfinished pencil drawings - of a mouthless, rotund king and his very vocal flying pet, Nat (Craig Ferguson) - comes to life.

They are perfectly nice and approach Yellow with a simple request: Please ask your fellow crayons to color us in. She freaks out and runs through the portal to Color City. When they follow, she tells her friends they are monsters out to destroy their world.

Co-starring Wayne Brady as the ultra-hip Blue crayon, Rosie Perez as sex kitten Red, Jess Harnell as science geek Green, and David Kaye as pessimistic Black, Hero proceeds to show us how kindness, friendship, and teamwork can help avert the biggest disaster.

The Hero of Color City is a fast-moving tale enlivened by a few catchy tunes, and it has some nice touches, including a sequence about some of Ben's unfinished drawings that live deep in the Color City desert, afraid they'll be discarded for good.

But the film feels as though it were manufactured in a factory, not crafted by artists. At best, it's worth the price of a DVD rental.

The Hero of Color City ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Frank Gladstone. With voices by Christina Ricci, Sean Astin, Owen Wilson, Rosie Perez, Craig Ferguson, Wayne Brady. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 17 mins.

Parent's guide: G.

Playing at: area theaters.

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