February 12, 2009


Magic Pickle and the Planet of the Grapes. By Scott Morse. Graphix/Scholastic. $5.99.

Magic Pickle vs. the Egg Poacher. By Scott Morse. Graphic/Scholastic. $5.99.

Hotel for Dogs. By Lois Duncan. Scholastic. $16.99.

     Ah, the visual possibilities! It is only a matter of time before Dreamworks or another animation studio creates a movie based on Scott Morse’s Magic Pickle character – just as Dreamworks has already made a film of Lois Duncan’s Hotel for Dogs. The pickle movie has a ri-pick-ulous number of possible scenarios, all of which can be easily drawn from Morse’s series of graphic novels, including the two newest and the original (which was simply called Magic Pickle and was basically an “origin story”). Magic Pickle, the result of a scientific experiment gone wrong (of course), lives in a secret lab under the bedroom of Jo Jo Wigman, and spends his time fighting the Brotherhood of Evil Produce, created in the same misguided experiment (by – who else? – Dr. Jekyll Formaldehyde). Just think of the scenes! In Planet of the Grapes, Magic Pickle blows up a lemonade stand that is causing strange behavior in people who drink the beverage – notably in Jo Jo’s classmate, Jarek, who shows up at school with a strange machine that “will replicate the diametric pentrosilius combustion present in all forms of transformation.” The result of this is the creation of an all-new evil-produce character called The Razin’ – whose objective is to turn everyone on Earth into grapes (hence the book’s title). The Wrinkled Wretch proves no match for Jo Jo and the Magic Pickle, of course. (And there’s the film’s title: Jo Jo and the Magic Pickle!) Nor, in Egg Poacher, can the Onion Ringer or the Rhyming Lime (who, of course, talks entirely in rhymes) overcome the dynamic duo (oops – that phrase is taken). This episode briefly introduces new bad guys, the Animal Crackers, defeated by Magic Pickle’s use of electricity – which unfortunately also manages to scramble, fry and boil an egg all at once. “He mustn’t be allowed to mix it up with the Brotherhood of Evil Produce,” warns Magic Pickle. “Together they could create some horrid Omelet of Evil.” But MP and Jo Jo are on the case, and in this case, there is actually some good information in the book in addition to the hijinks, because Jo Jo and her class go on a trip to the zoo and learn stuff (such as the scientific name of an egg-eating snake and the fact that boa constrictors are harmless and smooth). The Egg Poacher is of course eventually beaten (beating eggs – get it?), and there are plenty of puns and lots of action along the way. Just what moviegoers need.

     Of course, there is no guarantee that a Magic Pickle film would be a success. Hotel for Dogs, the movie, didn’t go over very well, with critics saying it was too full of implausibilities (even for a light comedy) and didn’t have much of a plot beyond what viewers could glean from its title. Lois Duncan’s book doesn’t have much of a plot, either, but in print, the plot that it does have works pretty well. Andi Walker and her family are moving temporarily into Aunt Alice’s house because Andi’s father just got a promotion at work and has to go to a new town – where Aunt Alice lives – for training. But Aunt Alice is highly allergic to dogs, so the Walkers have to leave their dog, Bebe, behind until they find out where Dad will be working after the training period. So when Andi and her brother, Bruce, find an adorable stray who soon has puppies, they can’t bring the brood to their current home – but there just happens to be an abandoned house down the street into which they can move the dog, which Andi names Friday, and the puppies as well. And it soon turns out that there are other dogs in need of a caring place to stay, including one that is mistreated and one that begs for scraps at school and – you get the idea. Andi, who is 10 and loves to write poetry, is soon mixed up with lots of dogs and lots of kids in her new school – and things get more complicated as Friday’s puppies get old enough to be weaned and adopted, and dog howls start to disturb the peace of the neighborhood, and then Andi’s father gets his assignment, which will let him live right in the same town…so the real-estate agent takes him to see a certain house that’s available just down the street from Aunt Alice’s... And of course the whole dog-hotel plot unravels, but revelations upon revelations mean that all nine dogs (10 if you count Bebe, who will soon be moving to the new town) end up with fine futures ahead of them – and Andi’s poetry gets a big boost, too. It’s as heartwarming as can be, with all the elements neatly buttoned up at the end – maybe a trifle too neatly, but that’s what makes the book the sort of pleasant fantasy that, one would think, would work as a film. Whether it does or not, Hotel for Dogs, the book, is sure to please preteens who love dogs – especially ones who love poetry as well.

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