- Craig Graziano
There's that familiar anecdote: a child gets a nice, big, expensive toy for his birthday. The parents have spent hours putting it together,. For all of their sweat, pain, and suffering they find that the child is most fascinated with the big cardboard box the toy came in.
Cardboard, by Doug TenNapel, is a clever variation on that premise. Mike, an out-of-work carpenter, has nothing for his son Cam's birthday. A strange old man approaches him with an offer. For just a handful of change, Mike can get his son an amazing gift. It may seem like an ordinary cardboard box, but whatever Cam makes out of the corrugated paper pulp comes to life.
Cam first decides to build a professional boxer. With his dad's construction know-how, they manage to create a pretty accurate, albeit goofy-looking, man in boxing gloves and shorts. The boxer quickly comes to life and goes by the name Bill. Cam is ecstatic, but they used up most of their cardboard making him. What's more, the spoiled rich kid who lives near Cam gets jealous and wants the cardboard all for himself.
The old man gave Mike two very important rules: return whatever leftover cardboard you may have and don't ask for any more. Those of you who have seen the 80's classic movie Gremlins will know immediately that both of these rules get broken. What follows is pure cardboard chaos.
By using the scraps to make a magic cardboard-making machine, Mike and Cam end up with an unlimited supply of the material. But when the machine falls into the wrong hands, monsters, giants, and a cardboard uprising ensue. Mike, Cam, and Bill are going to have to use what's left of the cardboard to make weaponry that will stop these stiff sticklers.
TenNapel has a fantastic imagination that leads to extraordinary visuals. If only some of his characters weren't so one-note, his book would be stronger. For example, Mike's female neighbor is basically around for the sake of some awkward flirting with the ultimate goal of being the woman that helps him get over his wife's death. She could have been so much more than a few jokes and a plot point.
Marcus, the neighborhood bully, is even more two-dimensional than some of the cardboard characters, a less complex version of the villanous Sid from the movie Toy Story. Many of TenNapel's character's go though emotional growth unrealistically quickly, without much reason than to advance the plot. But then again, we are talking about a book where cardboard figures come to life, so the value of realism is up in the air.
Cardboard is still a fun ride, a quick read, and as imaginative as any kid happy playing with his cardboard box. Go ahead and give it a whirl!