Odorama brings on new stink

THE BALTIMORE SUN

John Waters vs. the Rugrats?

This unlikely tussle between Baltimore's king of camp and Nickelodeon's cartoon franchise could be coming to a courthouse near you in the coming months.

Rugrats Go Wild, an animated feature that opens Friday, is being shown in "Odorama" with scratch-and-sniff cards. The word "Odorama," first advertised as part of Waters' 1981 comedy Polyester, is a registered trademark - and Waters is hopping mad that Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures, partners on the Rugrats movie, didn't clear it with him first.

And he's ready to raise a stink about it.

"They're calling it 'Odorama'?" asked an incredulous Waters. "I'm stupefied! That's a direct steal. New Line Cinema and I have a trademark on 'Odorama.' "

Later, after examining Nickelodeon's Odorama card, Waters was doubly steamed. "Can you believe it?" he said. "They even copied our logo. That's all I can say for now. It's with my lawyer. ... We'll see what happens."

Julia Pistor, the 42-year-old executive producer of the new Rugrats movie, said she and her crew were inspired by Waters' Polyester, which they saw growing up. "We loved all that great stuff William Castle and John Waters pioneered," she said. "We loved that low-tech interactivity. That's what inspired our 'Odorama.' "

The scratch-and-sniff cards for Rugrats Go Wild, being distributed at theaters, Burger King restaurants and Blockbuster video outlets, have six scents: strawberry, flower, peanut butter, root beer, stinky fish and stinky foot. Waters' R-rated version, available in DVD, has 10 scents, including new car, pizza, gas, glue, flatulence and dirty tennis shoes.

In the original theatrical showings, the scents were arranged by number, with audiences instructed to scratch the card when the appropriate number flashed onscreen. Audiences never knew what they'd be smelling, which was half the fun: While flowers might be onscreen when the number flashed, a pair of smelly tennis shoes would be shoved into the scene at the last second. No one wins a prize for guessing what the gleefully subversive Waters wanted his audience to smell.

Waters - known for Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, the movie that inspired the Tony-winning musical - recalls that his Odorama card had to be tested for insurance purposes, "in case somebody ate it." The Rugrats scents are described as non-allergenic but "not intended to be eaten."

Polyester, the penultimate collaboration between Waters and the magnificent Divine (who, seven years later, would create the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray), told the rags-to-better-rags story of Francine Fishpaw, a much-maligned Baltimore housewife whose rising comfort level is reflected in her choice of mates. Married to the owner of a porn theater, she finally finds happiness in the arms of a new boyfriend, Todd Tomorrow ('60s matinee idol Tab Hunter), owner of the Edmondson Drive-In Theater.

"Smell-O-Vision" - an earlier olfactory gimmick in which smells were piped to individual seats - was used in producer Michael Todd Jr.'s 1960 comedy-thriller Scent of Mystery. A year earlier, a documentary on the Great Wall of China featured AromaRama, wherein scents were pumped into the theater through the ventilation system.

Sun movie critic Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.

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