Ears on the Odyssey

Audio Review: The One and Only Bob

Barking life into Katherine Applegate’s lovable mutt, Bob, Danny DeVito fabulously demonstrates that it’s the little guys that often have the biggest hearts.

Bob is a dog, in his own words, “a mutt of uncertain heritage. Definitely some chihuahua with a smidgeon of papillon.” Disproportionate to his diminutive size, Bob’s self-described swagger is only exceeded by the affection and loyalty he displays to his human, Julia, and his best buds, Ivan, a philosophic silverback gorilla, and Ruby, an elephant adopted by the wildlife sanctuary near which Bob’s family lives and works.

With a massive storm fast approaching, Bob embarks upon a dangerous adventure with Ivan and Ruby. Along the way Bob survives both a tornado and a hurricane, rescues friends both old and new, and begins healing from past traumas. He even flies, but that’s a story best left for Bob to tell. Throughout it all, Bob faces forgotten fears while discovering a depth of courage that surprises even him, risking everything he’s gained in order to save the day while also discovering the true meaning of friendship and family.

Andy’s thoughts on Danny DeVito as Bob:

Just a few sentences into The One and Only Bob, I worried that DeVito may not have been the best choice to voice Bob. All I could think was, “this sounds too much like Danny DeVito.”  Shocker because he is, after all, Danny DeVito. This also illustrates the challenge of casting well-known and distinctive celebrities. The performer risks bringing with them vestiges of all the roles previously portrayed, a risk magnified when the performer is so uniquely memorable.

Thankfully, my fear quickly abated. Bob came to life through DeVito’s rough and often uncouth yet hilarious and well-paced delivery. Recalling that in the past DeVito has played snarky, self-serving, and opportunistic characters, I realize that Bob is all these things, too. He hogs the couch, devours unattended turkeys, and admits that he’s never been accused of being a good dog. It’s hard not to view within Bob hints of Louie De Palma from Taxi, Mr. Wormwood from Matilda, and countless others. Rather than distracting from the uniqueness of Bob, however, the effect is a character infused with the spirits of personalities sarcastically compensating for their shorter stature. If that’s not Bob, I don’t know what is.

Because I so thoroughly adored DeVito’s fabulous performance, I was shocked to discover that Sarah did not share my sentiment. I concede that Sarah’s criticism isn’t wholly unwarranted, but I’m able to see beyond DeVito’s acoustic flaws and recognize that even the flaws lend well to a dog that talks.

Sarah dishes on DeVito and why he needs a pop filter:

Andy, stop! I thought that we’d agreed that you wouldn’t throw me under the bus and make me out to be a hater. Some friend, jeesh! Okay, okay, since we’re being real here, yes, I did have some trouble adjusting to the, um, saliva issues in this audio. Which is to say, Danny DeVito’s performance is pretty spitty! Once I got into the story, I was totally cool with it, especially when I looked at my own dog and realized that, well, yes, dogs are kind of slobbery. The most slobbery dogs are the rambunctious ones, and in this respect, DeVito nailed it. I admit, there were times when I did feel that spittiness, but I was soon drawn into the story again.

So here’s the thing that we often consider when evaluating audiobooks—book or audio, which is better? Would you rip the book out of a child’s hands to replace it with the audio? Is it just that good? In this case, I’d have to say that the answer is a solid maybe. So helpful, right? So here’s the deal, Andy is absolutely correct, the best thing about this audiobook is that Danny DeVito is Bob in all of his imperfect glory. He is expressive and authentic and poignant, and darn-near perfect. 

But…(you knew this was coming, right?), I sometimes wished that I had the book in hand so that I could go back and read a passage, so that I could savor it and share it with others. There’s so much wisdom here, and the nature of the audio imparts a momentum that tends to elevate plot points above the nuggets of doggy insight. This is not a criticism of DeVito or the production team at all, but more of an appreciation of Katherine Applegate’s powerful words. Happily, there is a solution—get the book and the audiobook! Read it and listen to it, dog-ear the pages (fellow librarians, forget that you saw this), share them, and then go and listen again. This story is full of life and love, and it is exactly what we all need right now. Happy listening!

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate, read by Danny DeVito. 3 hours, 50 minutes. HarperAudio, 2020.

Andy Myers is an aspiring Librarian toiling his way through the MLIS program at Wayne State University. Andy embraced audiobooks to make lengthy commutes more manageable, but has since fallen in love with this wonderful avenue to enjoying literature. An occasional thespian, Andy understands the power of a great performance and believes that an outstanding narrator can enhance just about any book. @AndyBeau

Sarah Hashimoto is a branch manager at Jackson District Library in Jackson, Michigan. She is a member of ALSC, YALSA, and RUSA. She has served two years (one year as chair) on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Committee and was a member of the 2017 Odyssey Committee. Sarah is currently serving on RUSA’s Listen List Council as well as ALSC’s Membership Committee and reviews for AudioFile. Sarah prefers to read with her ears and is a passionate advocate of audiobooks for all ages and abilities.@SarahHashimoto1

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