If you don't eat your veggies, you'll end up like Judge Erich Asperschlager.
"Martin, if one more person or fish ever laughs at me again, I'm gonna quit!"
For Christian parents, VeggieTales has become as trusted a name in animation as Pixar has for your average moviegoer. They know that if the Veggie team puts something out on DVD, it will be well-written, Biblically sound, and (best of all) fun for the whole family. The latest VeggieTales effort, VeggieTales: Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella, succeeds on all fronts. It marks the return of Larry as Minnesota Cuke—modeled after a certain whip-wielding archaeologist—and is chock full of action, mystery, and has a lesson in confidence that will resonate with both kids and adults.
The show begins with Larry wearing a paper bag mask. When Bob asks why he's hiding, Larry tells him about a run-in he had with some kids at lunch who laughed at him for singing a prayer over his food. Hoping to encourage Larry to do the right thing no matter what other people think, he tells him the story of Minnesota Cuke and Noah's Umbrella. Like Larry, Minnesota has a fear of being laughed at—stemming from a childhood flashback reminiscent of the third Indiana Jones movie. Now, Minnesota has been hired by an eccentric millionaire named Warren Tuffet to find Noah's Ark and Minnesota's pal Professor Rattan, who went missing while on the same search. Minn's adventures take him to Mexico, where he reunites with gal pal Julia, and to Mt. Ararat in Turkey, where he must face his fears and rely on God's strength to save his friends from a nemesis bent on world domination.
The last Minnesota Cuke adventure, Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Samson's Hairbrush, was released in 2005, well before the fourth Indiana Jones movie hit big screens. Noah's Umbrella adds at least one gag aimed at the unfortunate sequel, in which Larry, while chasing a kidnapper through the jungle, is amazed at how easy it is to keep up with a speeding car by swinging on vines. For the most part, though, it steers clear of direct parody and goes with an adventure story inspired by the movies.
Noah's Umbrella isn't all action. It has plenty of teachable moments, too. Whenever Minn runs into a problem, he calls Martin (played by Bob), on his video cell phone—one of the few things in the episode that really strays from the Indy feel. Martin helps Minnesota through his problems, sharing Bible verses and using Noah's life as an example of extreme obedience without fear of ridicule. The message is a good one for VeggieTales' target audience. As the show's creators must know from working in show business, staying true to principles that others find ridiculous isn't easy.
The real treat of these long-form VeggieTales episodes is how well they translate their cinematic reference material. The animation is colorful, and the international settings are varied and fun. Particularly inspired is Kurt Heinecke's score, which nails the Indiana Jones feel. If you can, watch this with 5.1 surround on. It won't crack your windows, but it will make you forget you're watching a direct-to-DVD kids' show.
As is the tradition for most VeggieTales episodes, Noah's Umbrella has an intermission in the form of a "Silly Song With Larry." This disc's silly song is "Sippy Cup," the story of Larry trying to convince a fancy restaurant waitstaff that he can be trusted with a regular glass. It is, as advertised, very silly but kids will have fun singing along.
Really the only knock I could bring against Noah's Umbrella is that it caters far more to kids than adults. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I hoped for a few more "over kids' heads" jokes for parents.
VeggieTales could probably get away with skimping on extras, but Noah's Umbrella has a surprisingly solid line-up of bonus material. For the kids, there are two subtitled, sing-along versions of "Sippy Cup," one with the original vocal track and one lets them sing it karaoke-style. There are also two "how to draw" demos by animator Joe Spadaford, who shows kids step-by-step how to draw Minnesota Cuke and Julia (unlike the feature itself, the "Sippy Cup" and how-to-draw extras are in widescreen). Spadaford also narrates a remote-navigated art gallery, and discussion questions for church groups who might show this in a Sunday school setting. The best extra on the disc, though, is the feature commentary by co-creator Mike Nawrocki and writer Tim Hodge. The pair are informative, funny, and sincere. With only 50 minutes to fill, there's none of the fluff that plagues most DVD commentaries, and considering how little kids care about commentary tracks, it's nice they included an extra for adults.
VeggieTales: Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah's Umbrella is another winner from the folks at Big Idea. It's not only theologically sound, it's a lot of fun.
These veggies produce! Not guilty.
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