Big Top Otto picks up right where Big City Otto left off, with Otto the elephant and his buddy Crackers the parrot still far from their home and searching for Otto’s long-lost friend Georgie the chimp, who was abducted by the dreaded Man with the Wooden Nose. When Otto and Crackers meet a retired circus bear, they follow her tip and ride an old-fashioned railroad pull cart toward the corrupt circus that may be Georgie’s new home. As tends to happen with Otto, however, his quest isn’t as simple as it seems. In a frenetic series of events, Otto manages to fly through the air on inflatable French fries, drive a car shaped like a peanut, sneeze himself to the goalposts in a football game, and jump off a cliff into a river while driving the peanut car! You get the idea: it’s one adventure after another with these two, all pumped out at lightning speed so that it’s easy to forget where they’re going and why. In fact, all the action crammed into these 88 pages could be why the story tends to meander and lack any emotional heft, despite the animal-protection theme running throughout.
But perhaps that’s not the point. The story is not the star here, Otto is, in all his full color glory. Drawn in pen and ink, and colored digitally, the artwork is fantastic. Clearly influenced by the classic Sunday funny papers, Slavin varies color tone themes to fit each setting, and featured characters and secondary characters are all drawn with the same attention to detail, as are the backgrounds. The panel arrangements are fun and varied but not distracting, with insets for close-ups and odd-shaped frames for Otto’s dreams. Lots of sound effects pop out in otherwise near-wordless panels and carry the action forward (“clickety-clickety-clickety” for the train, “fwoop!” for the football twirling in the air, and of course “ah-choo!” for Otto’s massive, stadium-exploding sneeze).
There is definitely a Loony Tunes feel here, with many pop culture references and peppy banter between the characters. As in Big Top, there are incongruities that may stump an adult reader: Why does the circus have performing animals when the animals speak and stand upright just like humans? Why does the Amazonian panther speak broken English when the African elephant speaks perfect English? And how do new-to-America Otto and Crackers know the words to “Georgia on My Mind”? Never mind, because these lapses in logic will likely be overlooked by middle-grade readers who will instead relish Otto’s slapstick antics, Crackers’ sarcastic asides, and the lush, colorful artwork.
Elephants Never Forget: Big Top Otto, vol. 2
by Bill Slavin, Esperanca Melo
Art by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 8-11