Morty and Ray are enthralled by an old black-and-white film they watch one afternoon. Fans of the old 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray will recognize the theme (if not the actual events) of the film, which illustrator Jack E. Davis depicts in wonderful monochrome images. In Pinkwater’s version of the film, the handsome villain’s wicked deeds include squirting people with a trick buttonhole flower and handing out hot pepper bubblegum. Every time the villain does something mean, his portrait gets a little uglier, while he remains young and handsome.
Morty and Ray think this is the coolest movie they’ve ever seen. When the portrait of the villain (which has been hidden away throughout the film) is finally revealed, the boys could not be more delighted. “It is gruesome! It is gross! It is ugly! It is awful and disgusting!” And off they go to paint a portrait of themselves...and conduct their own movie-inspired experiment.
“Now we have to do rotten things and see if the picture gets uglier,” says Ray. And they do. At school they spit their chewing gum into the water fountains; they clog up the toilet with lots of toilet paper, and they call people nasty names (including Lard Head, Bubble Butt, and Garbage Breath). When they find their picture has indeed become uglier, they are overjoyed -- and they head back to school to wreak more mayhem.
But then they take things a bit too far, with the help of some pickle juice, and really hurt a friend’s feelings. Can the two boys manage to salvage the friendship and set things right?
Pinkwater's irreverent text and Davis's humorous illustrations will have kids demanding this one again and again. And really, what better introduction to Oscar Wilde could there be?
The Picture of Morty and Ray by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jack E. Davis (HarperCollins, 2003)
Publisher recommends for ages 9 - 12.