Jonah: A Veggie Tales MovieMARK SHEA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mark P. Shea "Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie." Catholic Exchange.com.
Reprinted with permission of Mark P. Shea.
Copyright 2002 Mark P. Shea
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.