waynepygram.com: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library Nickelodeon Original Movie Reviewed

waynepygram.com: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library Nickelodeon Original Movie Reviewed

How does that even work? That doesn't even make any sense! (yes this is an actual quote taken from the movie)

What is it? Nickelodeon Original Movie adapted from best-selling children's book
Where did it air? Well given that it's a Nickelodeon Original Movie...the world may never know.
Who stars in it? Casey Simpson and Breanna Yde are going to be the most obviously recognizable stars for people who follow this blog's typical subject matter, by far. For many of the players in this movie, such as say Klarke Pipkin (Sierra) and Hayley Sherpenisse (who plays...Haley) this is their very first role of any significance whatsoever (by that, a character who actually gets a name and assigned lines and all) or even literally their first role, period. Or like Katey Hoffman, who plays Dr. Zinchenko, who may have had some leading-ish roles before but not a whole lot of roles period before, but moreover Good Dear Sweet Baby Ge-Buz she's really hot.
Also...and I know I maintain such mature, high-standards on this blog and all but...Hayley Sherpenisse has a glaringly unfortunate last name, now that I actually bothered to type it out.
Why are we reviewing this? You may have read our recent review of the original book (which is down below, somewhere) and hey it's a NOM so yeah, why not?

...you know how people like to say hurr de la hurr de hurr the book is better than the movie?

...well....

At first it was actually quite faithful and accurate to the book. Then the opening credits went up. Then it started being less faithful. Then it...I dunno, but it sure became something that I can only describe as, uh, something.

I don't know if I did a good enough job conveying this during my original book review, but now that I've actually seen the NOM, I think I can do a better job of that now, because I definitely have a clear, decent picture of what was missing from the NOM.

As I said in said review (heh), the strength of Mr. Lemoncello's Library isn't necessarily in the plot or the characters but the puzzles, particularly the word and logic puzzles. And true to its word (pun intended) Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a loving tribute to libraries and books in book form itself, with lots of references to popular children's, teens and older books - including some pretty current ones. Frequent references to Hunger Games for example, not to mention to James Patterson's middle school and YA books (as I mentioned, Chris Grabenstein also co-wrote many of those books with Patterson). Grabenstein was even nice enough to compile a PDF of all the books referenced in the so-far two books (which just recently was expanded to three, the third one officially launching the day after this NOM). It's the reference/wordplay, puns, word puzzles and logic puzzles that really make Mr. Lemoncello's Library as great a read as it is.

...aaaannnd of course all of that's going to be super-hard to translate onto a TV screen with a basic cable network catering to tween's budget.

Yeah, I'm going to make that a sticking point. I really think it would've translated better with a bigger, cinema wide-release budget, even if it's for a movie that would get stuck in the middle of April or September or even here in October or something (and all the budgetary implications that carries). And the books' sales at least suggest something towards justifying that. Then again I know big-budget movie adaptations of YA books, especially fantasy and sci-fi, haven't been doing all that well despite what Hunger Games and Harry Potter and even Percival Jackson makes people think (and yeah, of all people I probably should understand this most of all because it's more or less literally my job to do so, even beyond this blog). I understand The Book Thief under-performed - which is understandable because it's depressing as hell. I also know say for example Ender's Game was a disaster, and the Divergent movie series gets to have the distinction of being a moving disaster, with each film performing less until we've gotten to the point where they're talking made-for-tv-movie with naturally recast actors and even that seems to be an utter trainwreck cratering straight into Development Hell. 

But that's the thing, there are actually specific reasons why those movies didn't do well or outright bombed. The Book Thief, well, was depressing as hell, and it's also my understanding a bunch of German and Australian producers and some German and Australian studios (Marcus Zuzak, the original author, is Australian and as for Ze Germans well...if you know anything about the plot of the book you could probably figure it out why they'd get involved) really pushed for it as a passion project, full well taking the risk that it might not do well in American theaters with hopes that international box office returns will more than make up for it. The ascending failure of The Divergent movies can be explained in that they're just really trite, contrived, cliched pat movies based on really trite, contrived, cliched pat source material. I mean, I'm not in the habit of knocking on authors especially but really - The Hunger Games is actually very solidly, well-written and in comparison Divergent is pretty much just paint-by-numbers and I'm sorry but it just drives home how much of a cash-in it was.

And as for Ender's Game, that whole movie was just blown out the ass (although, to it's credit, it was pretty faithful to the book - but yeah something was lost in translation, most experts apparently laying the blame strictly at the directorial effort and lead actor, Asa Butterfield. Again I'm not in the habit of picking on particular actors, especially child actors, so sorry Asa - I understand your career's been pretty decent since though but sorry you got stuck with that turd).

As for Mr. Lemoncello's Library here - the super-shrunk budget combined with Nickelodeon's compulsion to have to make it "Nickelodeon-y" sapped out everything that hallmarked the source material. Here's the thing, too - Nickelodeon has an actual cinematic movie studio. No I'm not just talking about glombing onto Paramount Studios or any other assets made available throughout the vast Viacom/CBS Empire - I mean, in the same vein as sister network MTV, they literally have their own movie studio, appropriately called Nickelodeon Film Studios. They did the Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging movie, the original Harriet the Spy movie with Michelle Trachtenberg, Clock Stoppers (remember that one? It had French Stewart in it!) and Fun Size with Victoria Justice which were actually released on theaters (and yes I actually did see all of those, yes even Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging heck I've read some of the books, natch), I think they did a few more too.

But...stepping back from "book-fidelity...." It's...just a standard Nickelodeon kids' action movie. A lot like Legend of the Hidden Temple, actually. Come to think of it, that movie was probably better, not to mention more faithful to the source material. At least Legends of the Hidden Temple had context for its physical-based obstacles and puzzles. Mr. Lemoncello's Library...had like one or two real logic puzzles, and with one the audience didn't have much of a chance to play along and the other...was pretty insultingly simple (READ, PEOPLE! READ!) The rest were pretty much just physical challenges (made un-urgent if not moot by the knowledge that these kids are in a movie with a lot of CGI-assistance), glorified sight gags or even just "find the book title but get so spooked out by lame Bello Lagossi rip-offs that you want to friggin' quit the game, geez" and they even had their own "every single team who ever played Hidden Temple doesn't know how to put the statue puzzle together" gag rip-off. 

And then everything goes haywire (which does not happen in the book) because again, need to make it more Nickelodeon-y, but then the kids work together to get themselves out of that mess and escape from the library, whoopie. Again, it really ends up being an excuse to introduce yet more sight gags that don't even really go anywhere. The only thing of note was a quote from Charlotte of Charlotte's Web (and yes the CGI really is as bad as I presaged it in the book review) where she has to escape a kung-fu mother goose (that's one of those aforementioned go-nowhere sight gags) while being interrupted mid-sentence that almost made the opening quote - until I found an even better one.

Movie Grade: C-. And yes, that's evaluating it on its own merits. If you're hoping for something pretty faithful to the books you're going to be massively disappointed. If you're hoping for a typical NOM...your disappointment is going to be much less muted.
Movie MVP: Katey Hoffman for again being really cute in this (and a redhead too!), but given the Weinstein stuff I probably should tone down the "give MVP awards to whoever's the prettiest" nonsense so...Casey Simpson wasn't bad in this, actually, and shows he has more range than just poor Ricky and that he and the rest of his on-screen brothers weren't just cast to fill in physical space around Lizzy Greene. Klarke Pipkin and Hayley Scherpenisse (oh God I'm sorry but man what a doozy of a last name, Sweet Lord) weren't bad either given that this is like their very first real on-screen acting roles period. Breanna Yde's good but...really, we already knew that. 

Extra Thoughts

 - yeah spoiler alert for the book: you know how Miguel and Haley get literally dropped out of the game pretty early? Yeah in the book they...kinda-sorta help the main characters win. I guess Nickelodeon really wasn't putting much thought into sequel possibilities.

- Speaking of which, I guess they don't need to worry that much since this is apparently the lowest-rated NOM in years, beating out the previous "winner," which was just last year's Legends of the Hidden Temple. Then again this seems to point to a trend that NOM viewership is just going to be inevitably down regardless, and it really puts the future of the NOM in doubt.

 - But hey, at least this one's a full 90-minutes long (with commercial breaks) instead of that stupid one-hour nonsense we've been getting for a loooong time.

 - Oh, and about casting, I was really excited to find out who'd they cast as Mr. Lemoncello himself (since he's both a larger-than-life and pretty important character in the book) and...they pretty much just have this generic caricature. Nobody even super-recognizable from Nickelodeon's own potentially available stable, like Brian Stepanek, Eric Allen Kramer, Chris Tallman, Tony Cavalero or Kelly Perine? Or even Dana Snyder? C'mon who doesn't want to see Master Shake have his own library?

 - This is a bit late to the party but it occurred to me the relationship between Chiltington and Peckleman - the obvious "bad seed" as I think Dr. Z referred to him wearing a blue blazer and mostly defined by cheating as a means to knock out other competitors, and referring to his much nerdier, much nicer tag-along as "Pickle." I'm pretty sure we haven't seen something like that on Nickelodeon before.


BTW I had to dig through a lot of video "toy reviews" in order to find even that one that seemed the most relevant (unfortunately Nick Jr. doesn't really have a lot of clips, oddly enough). Like a toy review involving Blaze having to...rescue Elsa from being raped by The Joker or something?

I dunno. What I'm trying to say is, TIL video toy reviews on YouTube are messed the 'eff up.

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