Skip to comments.Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie [I confess, I love Veggie Tales too ]
Posted on 10/06/2002 9:16:28 PM PDT by Polycarp
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
Veggie Tales has been called "the biggest pop culture phenomenon you've never heard of." That may be an exaggeration. There are probably even bigger ones you've never heard of, but then I've never heard of them either, so I can't tell you about them.
In This Article... Demented Geniuses Wickedly Subversive Throwing Tomatoes at the Critics
However, big or little, I've long had a weakness for these things. For the uninitiated, Veggie Tales is a series of CGI videos released by the demented geniuses at Big Idea. They are chiefly the brainchildren of Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki and feature the odd retelling Bible stories or illustrations of biblical teachings, all done by a cast of vegetables led by Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber.
I know. It sounds uninspiring on paper, if you haven't seen them. But you gotta trust me on this these guys are really funny, a sort of strange brew mixing Monty Python, MTV, your third grade Sunday School teacher and a tiny bit of Robin Williams all with a G rating. And now, they've done a very funny movie (Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie) that introduces kids to the story of Jonah while keeping grownups entertained as well.
The story you know: Prophet (played by Archibald Asparagus [voice: Phil Vischer]) told to go and warn Nineveh of impending doom. Prophet hot foots it out of there because he wants Nineveh to fry. Hops boat to Tarshish (captained by the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything). Big storm. Thrown overboard. Becomes ingredient in a Whale Big Gulp (along with the not-exactly-biblical sidekick Khalil, his half worm/half caterpillar buddy). Prophet says he's sorry. Urrp. Goes to Nineveh and prophesies. Nineveh repents. He's ticked. God tells him he loves everybody, not just the Chosen People. This is a story that's full of comic possibilities, given the right demented genius, and the movie exploits them, often with an eye on contemporary secular and Christian culture.
For instance, Jonah takes what could have been a boring and saccharine tune about obeying God's laws ("A Message from the Lord") and turns it into a cunning lampoon of comfortable suburban religiosity. Jonah's self-satisfaction is so thick you can cut it with a knife, but it is the self-satisfaction of the platitudinous American pietist ("Don't do drugs. Stay in school! A Message from the Lord!"). Prophetic oracle as Public Service Announcement. These guys have no intention of letting their suburban Evangelical "base audience" get away with looking down on Those People Over There. It's wickedly subversive--like the book of Jonah.
The great thing about Jonah, like all Veggie Tales, is the playfulness of the writing. Nawrocki simply has an ear for the goofy. ("I'll hoist the mainsail!" "I'll pop the popcorn!" "And I'll get the moist towelettes!") The film is littered with odd little ditties giving vent to Nawrocki's quirky gift for nonsense verse and whimsical dialogue (Be sure to stay all the way to the end of the closing credits to hear "The Credits Song"). Nawrocki and composer Kurt Heinecke have a knack for coming up with music that somehow manages to be faithful to "the message" yet which you like so much that you don't feel preached to. It is also well-animated, with an abundance of visual gags that reward a second viewing.
The story is framed (a frequent device in Veggie Tales) with a quarrel between a couple of the Veggie kids that relates to the problem in the biblical story. Kids can track with this and can see how the story relates to them.
Throwing Tomatoes at the Critics
Some critics complain of Veggie Tales because they don't treat biblical stories with the solemnity of a Gustave Dore illustration. But I think this criticism is ill-considered. Veggie Tales never mocks the story or the moral itself. Vischer and Nawrocki are serious Evangelicals. Neither do they dumb the biblical story down or give short shrift to things like sin by explaining it away as "poor communication" or "being a victim". Rather, they translate biblical ideas into something kids can grasp. They know that (particularly with this mass-market film in post-Christian America) they are presenting a Bible story to an audience of children suckled on MTV for whom monotheism may very likely be news. So they are simple, but they don't condescend. Amazingly, they pull it off, translating Jonah into G movie terms digestible by a five year old, yet still funny enough to reward the adult viewer.
The inhabitants of Nineveh are therefore not the Assyrians of history who left mounds of human heads in their conquering wake. For these uplifting and child-friendly visions, the people at Big Ideas opt to allow parents let their kids watch cable television. Instead, the Ninevites are sarcastic French pea rudesbys (with French accents, of course) who slap each other with fish because they don't know any better. Likewise, the sojourn of Jonah in the whale's belly is handled with flair as the occasion for a big angelic black gospel choir number that somehow works.
The Key to Good Comedy: Being Funny
But most of all Jonah's funny, the ultimate criteria for any comedy. As comedic art, it works. I cracked up (an extremely rare phenomenon when I go to comedies since most of them and this is important for filmmakers to understand aren't funny). Jonah is. Go see it, not because "it's good for you" but because it's fun!
Oh, and my kids (they range in age from 15 to 5) urge me to tell your kids they'll love it.
Mark Shea is Senior Content Editor for Catholic Exchange. You may visit his new website at www.mark-shea.com.
Best song: "Larry Boy" theme at the end of the "Fib From Outer Space."
Second best song: "The Cheeseburger Song."
Yeah, too bad it didn't play at the drive-in.
Good viewing! (Side note: I have a 10-y.o. daughter to watch Veggie Tales with and can't WAIT to see the movie!)
The writing is excellent. It's funny on the obvious level (for the kids) and also an adult level that probably sails over kids' heads, but allows us parents to enjoy. In that way it's somewhat reminiscent of Bullwinkle or the Simpsons. The music is good, with funny lyrics and catchy tunes (I found myself humming "I love my lips" this weekend). The themes are not watered down, or dumbed down. They're just handled lightly - like they're talking to children, which just happens to be what they're doing.
I'm looking forward to this full length movie. It's great to see some real family entertainment for a change.
I hate to admit ... when my daughters started school at a non-denominational Christian school (there was no Catholic school at the time) I thought VeggieTales was some liberal pro-vegetarian, pro-animal rights propaganda. Then I bought Silly Songs because my kids begged me and my oldest said VeggieTales was bible stories. I was skeptical, but she doesn't lie.
I fell in love with Bob and Larry. The Bunny Song got stuck in my head one day. When we listen to VeggieTales in the car, the songs are with you all day. A VeggieTales Christmas (on tape/CD only) is one of the best kids Christmas disks I have ever heard.
Jonah was great. I loved the Gospel Music in the whale about God being a God of second chances. People were clapping in the theater. There were a lot of references to Jesus Christ without mentioning Jesus, and I felt great when I left the movie. So rare these days.
Great work, Big Idea!!!!!!!!!
That was the really nice thing when I saw Jonah this weekend -- families going to the movies together.
My favorite VeggieTales is "Where's God When I'm Scared". I absolutely love the song by the green onions who convinced the King to throw Daniel into the Lion's Den. "Oh no, what're we going to do? The King likes Daniel more than me and you." My younger daughter likes Larry Boy the best. And in the Rumor Weed you see a Cucumber BBQ a hamburger. Gotta love it.
BTTT for Mr. Lunt (great idea for an FR handle, btw).
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