VeggieMovies, Take Two

The idea for the movie began with a vision of three fake pirates falling from the sky into the ocean, transported in a magical rowboat back into the 17th century.

It helps to know that Elliot, Sedgewick and George have, in their previous dramatic lives, been known as Larry the Cucumber, Mr. Lunt and Pa Grape — key characters in the successful VeggieTales products created by Big Idea, Inc. Now they're headed back to theaters in "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," a feature film distributed by Universal Pictures that is scheduled for release on Jan. 11.

This time around, the vegetables don't quote scripture and their adventure doesn't turn into a funny version of a Bible story. Still, the artist also known as Bob the Tomato stressed that Veggie fans don't have to worry that these pirates have abandoned the faith.

"You can do a story like this one of two ways," said Phil Vischer, who created Big Idea, Inc., and continues to work as a writer and performer for the company.

"You can say, 'Let's start with a Bible story and then we'll figure out where our characters fit into it.' When you do this, you know that you already have a story and some characters and there is a biblical message in there. The challenge is figuring out how to make it VeggieTales story.

You have to find the humor."

This is what happened with "Jonah," the first feature-length VeggieTales production, which cost $16 million to make and took in about $25 million at the box office back in 2002. That was a lot of money for an openly Christian movie in the days before "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

However, "Jonah" was a high-stakes gamble for Vischer and his Big Idea team, part of a complicated legal and financial train wreck that led to the sale of the company to Classic Media. The VeggieTales franchise — which has sold more than 50 million DVDs and other video products — is now part of the Entertainment Rights, a British company.

 The VeggieTales stars have also been a hit on Saturday mornings for NBC, but with some of their more explicit God references trimmed for general consumption. The big question for the Big Idea people is whether softening the religious language in their stories is a plus or a minus, when it comes to reaching a wider audience.

This is not a new question. Vischer noted that the VeggieTales team has been using a second, less explicitly religious, way of telling stories since the very beginning.

If the first approach to telling stories starts with the Bible and then blends in humor, the second begins with a funny story and then tries to blend in some faith. That's what happened in 2003 when Vischer had his rowboat vision and wrote the script for "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything."

"You can do it either way. This time, we just started out with the slacker pirates and we went from there," he said. "When you go this route, someone always has to ask, 'So what's the lesson here?' I usually have to say, 'I don't know right now, but we'll dig around until we find one.' "

So the new movie's message is biblical, even if it doesn't openly quote the Bible.

Christian parents who take their children to see the film will recognize that it's a parable about God helping the heroes conquer their fears and weaknesses, said Terry Pefanis, the chief operating officer at Big Idea.

Many other viewers will think that it's a silly, positive, wholesome story for children — period.

Studio executives know that, to be a mainstream hit, this kind of faith-friendly product has to appeal to both of these audiences. It has to please the people from the pews, while reaching out to as many other viewers as possible.

"There is a Christian market out there," said Pefanis, after a test screening of an unfinished version of the movie last week in Nashville.

"Hollywood is starting to realize that, now.

"There are people who want to see good entertainment that has some Christian content. But it has to be good. You can't just put something in a Christian box and expect people to love it. There has to be a real story in there."

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    My cool teenage sons are looking forward to this movie, since they loved the song.  But they are planning to take their younger brother and a few even younger friends along as a cover.

  • Guest

    and on the other side of the coin:

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp

     

  • Guest

    I take deep offense at the line "You can't just put something in a Christian box and expect people to love it. There has to be a real story in there."

    Listen sports fans, you can't get any more real than Jesus Christ.

    Such relativism (sure, Christianity may be nice for you, but don't try to say it's for everybody) is exactly what we need to avoid these days.

    In my opinion, the NBC television adaptation, and apparently this film, mark sad steps backward, away from the truth, for the Veggie Tales folks.

  • Guest

    PTR:

    It seems that the statement, “You can’t just put something in a Christian box and expect people to love it. There has to be a real story in there” may reflect something C.S. Lewis says in his essay Christian Apologetics found on p. 93 of God in the Dock. There Lewis says:

    “We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent.”

    I will grant that Lewis says it somewhat better than Pefanis, but with a Christian worldview as the foundation upon which a popular story may be built, mightn’t we hope that that worldview could lead one to the light without the in-your-face approach taken other VeggieTales movies.

    Just some unfiltered thoughts on the subject.

    In Christ,

    Michael

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”

    “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – GK Chesterton

  • Guest

    michaelme,

    Perhaps.

    But Veggie Tales was already a very successful enterprise while unabashedly presenting a clear Christian message; the corporation that bought them out decided to have "explicit God references trimmed for general consumption." This seems not to be done as a more latent way to promote the following of Jesus Christ, but to water the gospel down in order to be politically correct.

    Is that why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? To be politically correct?

    With all due respect to Mr. Clive Stapleton Lewis, we've been down this path and what it has born is not good fruit. I mean, veggies.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    It seems that it once was that as we – in the past, who have been and died, and now who are – trying to stay in line following Jesus as He commanded found ourselves cornered time and again by the ‘Enlightened’ secular know-it-all-know-nothings. No one stopped them for fear of – well – you know, bloodshed in any way. Of our various eras, we took the cornering as we could – in the cultural, or academical, or the moral and ethical, or the communal. Now, we find we are cornered out of the corners! I think that no prior commentator imagined that.

    Forced into the open as ready targets, a few pulled out of ‘the Christian box’ and from the Gospel books to give us The Passion of the Christ – starkly Christian enough to scare every Christian-phobe in his corner. Jesus, the Christ, as He was, as He is . . .

    As PTR notes, we need more Christas Christ is, not as we want Him. He and His Apostolic commentators are always right-on-the-money.

    As for the veggies, steam ‘em and side-dish ‘em. Then again – ‘broccoli, crucified!’ or ‘tomato salad, Christocentric with asiago cheese’???

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In the Suffering of Christ, and in His hope of His Resurrection,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    PTR:

    I can’t disagree that the business decisions made by the acquiring company to remove explicit messages about God is a move to pander to the masses. I, too, would have hoped for more Christ on TV as VeggieTales moved to the new medium. I suppose that we should pray that, like Christianity, Christ moves from the catacombs of script latency to the Christendom of explicit confession on the screen in front of our children.

    Michael

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”

    “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – GK Chesterton

  • Guest

    Amen, warren.

    And amen, michaelme.

  • Guest

    I don't believe that Veggie Tales is necessarily changing their way.  Speaking as a Veggie Tales Mom, I know that not all of their stories start out as Bible Stories.  Madam Blueberry for instance, Larry Boy and the Rumor Weed, Larry Boy and the Bad Apple, The Grapes of Wrath, etc. all are stories that are not from the Bible, but have Christian messages, sometimes blatant and other times more subtle. 

MENU