Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pachyderm Pal: Pete and Pickles by Berkley Breathed

We first see Pete, a practical, predictable, perfectly uncomplicated pig, in a poignant moment under a twilight autumn sky, sadly vacuuming the grave of his "dear wife, Paprika." It's a quiet, simple life, but a lonely one.

But that stormy night, awakening from a familiar nightmare of an overwhelming ocean wave, Pete senses that something or someone is there in the room with him. It's Pickles, a runaway circus elephant, trying to disguise herself as a table lamp with a lampshade over her head, silently mouthing "Help me!" while her keeper bangs on the door.

Pete is sympathetic to Pickles' desire to escape, and plied with fresh dandelion bouquets picked by the plaintive pachyderm, he finally takes her in, but Pete is totally unprepared for life with an exuberant, imaginative, and utterly fearless elephant. Pickles shakes up Pete's life with dives off Niagara Falls (well, sort of) and a climb up the Matterhorn (sort of). Pete floats down a Venetian canal (also imagined) with Pickles serving as the gondola while Pete poles her along with his broom.

But then Pickles goes too far when Pete catches her trying on Paprika's favorite outfit in front of a mirror. When Pete asks Pickles to leave, the shocked elephant falls, breaking a water pipe, and the house begins to fill with water. At last, Pete finds himself standing on top of the submerged Pickles, barely keeping his own snout out of the water. He realizes that it is up to him to find a way to save his self-sacrificing friend's life along with his own.

Pete & Pickles is by turns silly, sad, sentimental, and a standout as a story of two unlikely but utterly likable friends. Breathed's digital illustrations have the same edgy, surreal atmosphere as his award-winning Opus cartoons and his best-selling hit from 2007, Mars Needs Moms! (reviewed here February 12, 2007). Critics love Breathed's splendid merger of serious art and cartoon style, but kids will totally get this story of two friends who together are more than the sum of their separate parts.



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