Judge Dan Mancini likes to talk to tomatoes. What of it?
"…sometimes it can be easy to forget what's really important about Easter."—Bob the Tomato
VeggieTales is a computer animated direct-to-video Christian kids' show that began in 1993. It follows the adventures of uptight Bob the Tomato (voiced by series co-creator Phil Vischer) and easygoing Larry the Cucumber (co-creator Mike Nawrocki), who lead a cast of talking vegetables through musical-comedy morality tales (often, but not always, inspired by Bible stories). Each episode also includes a brief musical intermission in which Larry or one of the other vegetable characters performs a silly song. It all sounds incredibly stupid, I know, but VeggieTales' mix of music, comedy, moral lessons, and rock-solid computer animation is more clever and entertaining than it has a right to be.
The 45th episode in the series, 'Twas the Night Before Easter concerns a rhubarb television reporter named Marlee Meade who decides to save the Crisper County Theater, which is scheduled to be razed so that a playground can be built for children at the homeless shelter next door. Marlee and her friends decide that the best way to serve the community is to put on a musical extravaganza called "Up with Bunnies!" featuring Gary the giant mechanical Easter bunny. The show is to debut the evening before Easter. To ensure the production's success, Marlee hopes to snare the talents of Cassie Cassava (voiced by American Idol contestant Melinda Doolittle), winner of the television reality show America Loves British Judges to lead the cast. The problem is that the mellifluous root is committed to sing for Pastor Erwin (played by Bob the Tomato) at his church's Easter sunrise service the following morning. Marlee and Erwin square off over Cassie until a close encounter with a homeless woman and her young son (both asparagus shoots) makes them realize that perhaps musical theater and sunrise services aren't as effective a way to celebrate the true meaning of Easter as actually helping people in need.
The only notable weakness of 'Twas the Night Before Easter is that it's essentially a remake of VeggieTales' 2003 Dickensian musical theater spoof, The Christmas Star. Though perhaps a sign that the folks at Big Idea are running thin on story ideas, the repetition doesn't cause major damage to the show because the musical numbers and sly wit that separate VeggieTales from the rest of the kids' entertainment pack remain sharp and original. The main musical number in this episode is a bunny-themed dance ditty called "Hopperena." Were VeggieTales as lazily assembled as most children's programming, the tune would be an irritating parody of the irritating 1995 Los Del Rio novelty hit "Macarena." Despite its title, "Hopperena" has blessedly little in common, musically or lyrically, with "Macarena." Instead, it's a catchy and original little number (sung by a group of peas) that is sure to get young ones' toes tapping, as well as put smiles on the faces of most adults. Add to the strong musical performances a fun subplot involving an outsized mechanical Easter bunny named Gary, and a story that culminates in full-throated advocacy for helping people who are suffering or in need, and Christian and non-Christian parents alike should be able to appreciate 'Twas the Night Before Easter as excellent, heartfelt entertainment for their kids.
The show is presented in two aspect ratios: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and a compositionally adjusted full frame. The digitally rendered transfers are essentially flawless. Colors and detail are excellent, limited only by the standard definition downgrade from the original high definition source. The lone audio option is a clean Dolby 5.1 surround mix. There are both English and Spanish subtitles.
The disc also includes a handful of decent extras, most of them geared toward young viewers. Director Mike Nawrocki , executive producer Leslie Ferrell, and writer Mark Steele deliver an audio commentary that is light and affable, yet full of production anecdotes.
There is also a pair of brief featurettes:
"Behind the Voice of Cassie with Melinda Doolittle" (4:40)—The one-time American Idol contestant talks about her experience working on VeggieTales.
"Larry's Backstage Pass to VeggieTales Live" (2:48)—Larry narrates a promo reel for VeggieTales Live, a touring show for kids in which costumed actors perform VeggieTales songs.
In addition to the two featurettes, there's a singalong version of "Hopperena," an Easter egg hunt game played with your DVD player's remote control, and a discussion guide that challenges children to think of ways they can help others. There's also a small gallery of production artwork.
'Twas the Night Before Easter is par for the VeggieTales course, which is to say it's a thoughtful and artful piece of entertainment for young children.
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