Judge Erich Asperschlager wonders what vegetables eat for dinner.
Life is more than a game…
Everyone's favorite proselytizing produce returns for the pseudo-holiday tale, VeggieTales: It's a Meaningful Life. Based on the Frank Capra film with a similar name, this latest from Big Idea is an uplifting story with a Biblical message about trusting in God's plan.
In the charming small town of Rockwell, a local football player named Stewart (as played by Larry the Cucumber) dreams of playing in the Salad Bowl and leaving his home for bigger and better things. But an accident during the final game of the season leaves Stewart in the hospital, and his teammate Morty "Bumblebee" Bumble makes the big play instead. Fifteen years later, Stewart is still in Rockwell, managing his father's toy train factory, while Morty is a world-famous football star. Stewart is happily married to his childhood sweetheart, Donna, with whom he has twin boys, Art and Barney, and an adopted daughter, Emma. But problems at the factory, coupled with Morty's announcement that he's coming home, stirs up feelings of jealousy and discontentment. Just when Stewart reaches his lowest point of wondering what could have been, a magical train and its kooky conductor appear to show him just how different life would be, for him and for Rockwell, if he had caught the ball that day.
Since the early days of computer animation, VeggieTales has been the gold standard for clever Christian family entertainment. As the technology improved, so has the quality of animation. But while It's a Meaningful Life looks better than past VeggieTales cartoons, the overall quality is as high as ever. These modern day parables are deceptively cute, wrapping a crisp layer of good-humor around solid theology. This latest episode is based on Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that promises that God's plan works for good, even in bad situations.
Like the iconic George Bailey, Stewart has big dreams, bigger than the small town in which he lives. Despite all the good things he has, those unrealized dreams come to a head and cause him to ask "what if?" In Capra's classic, the catalyst for the final act was mean ol' Mr. Potter stealing George's money and driving him to contemplate suicide. Of course, the VeggieTales crew doesn't go down those dark roads. In fact, the closest thing It's a Meaningful Life has to a villain is the spoiled sports star Morty Bumble. Still, the episode earns the emotional impact of the alternate reality finale by putting the toy train factory in danger of bankruptcy.
Although an angel would have been a perfect fit for the VeggieTales universe, the Clarence part is played by Gabe the squash, conductor of the What If? Express, a cross between the Polar Express and Doc Brown's time machine. In a nod to A Christmas Carol, Gabe takes Larry to three "stops," one to show him how big of a jerk he'd have become if he was a sports star; one to show him how worse off his never-to-be-wife, unadopted daughter, and the kids he never coached in peewee football would have been; and one at a crossroads where Stewart must choose which life he wants to lead.
Like the movie it's very loosely based on, It's a Meaningful Life works well as part of the Christmas festivities, but it works just as well apart from the holiday season. It's a lot of fun, with catchy musical numbers, and an important Christian message. Too often, family fare is all style, no substance. Once again, the folks behind VeggieTales prove that they are interested in both.
VeggieTales: It's a Meaningful Life is presented in your choice of either full-screen or 1.78:1 widescreen, with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. The animation is crisp and colorful. It's not Pixar-quality, but it's better than most direct-to-DVD fare. The sound mix is equally as satisfying favoring the front speakers, but with real punch.
Adding to the feature's 48-minute run time is a healthy helping of extras, beginning with a full-length commentary recorded by co-creator Mike Nawrocki (the voice of Larry) and director Brian Roberts. The guys are as warm and fun as the show itself, trading behind-the-scenes stories and inspirations both cinematic and spiritual. Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman was asked to write a song for the end credits, and came up with "Meant to Be." The song appears in the bonus features with a music video, and a behind-the-song featurette in which Chapman describes how it was inspired by his family. Keeping with the musical theme, there's a karaoke version of this episode's trademarked Silly Song, "Goodnight Junior." Rounding out the extras is a "Meaningful Family Life Guide" that reinforces the show's message, a live action kid-focused featurette called "All Aboard: Larry Rides a Real Train" that was filmed in Chattanooga, and an art gallery.
VeggieTales: It's a Meaningful Life is another standout entry in the family series, made even better because it doesn't slavishly ape the Jimmy Stewart movie that inspired it. It may not appeal to non-Christians (or meat-eaters), but if you're open to its message, there are worse ways to learn Biblical truths than having them sung to you by an anthropomorphic asparagus.
If you're not going to eat your veggies, at least watch them. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Big Idea
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