Judge Dan Mancini likes to talk to tomatoes.
A story of joyful giving.
VeggieTales is a long-running computer-animated direct-to-video Christian kids show that follows the adventures of persnickety Bob the Tomato (voiced by series co-creator Phil Vischer) and easy-going Larry the Cucumber (co-creator Mike Nawrocki). The duo leads a cast of talking vegetables through stories (often but not always derived from the Bible) that drive home a moral point. A Christmas-themed mash-up of It's a Wonderful Life and a little church history, Saint Nicholas is about giving joyfully to those in need. The tale begins in a quaint little hamlet peopled with vegetables preparing with great excitement (and a musical number) for the yuletide. Among them is Junior Asparagus, a little guy who's more eager to receive presents than to enjoy the company of family or ponder the holiday's true meaning. Bob the Tomato sets him straight with the story of Saint Nicholas, a pepper who grew up in third-century Greek. Nicky's father is a successful fisherman who goes out of his way to help the poor. His rival, a miserly gourd named Gustav, thinks Nicky's old man a fool for his generosity. Matters turn ugly when Nicky's parents die from a disease they caught while helping the sick and destitute. Nicky flees Greece, but eventually returns to find that Gustav has taken over his little town, reinventing it in his own greedy image. Nicky determines to use his own resources to secretly help the increasing number of poor people—whatever the personal cost.
Fans of VeggieTales are sure to enjoy Saint Nicholas. It has all the hallmarks of the VeggieTales style: computer-animated fruits and vegetables, a story with a forcefully stated moral, loads of surprisingly clever jokes, and even a little slapstick. Each episode of the show also includes an interlude halfway through called Silly Songs with Larry in which Larry the Cucumber regales the audience with a musically and lyrically precocious tune of one sort or another. In Saint Nicholas, the segment is replaced with Helpful, Humanitarian Songs with Mr. Lunt. It features Lunt (a Spanish gourd) singing "Donuts for Benny," a plaintive tune about a mangy old dog who just wants donuts (and a little love), but goes into a mad sugar rush when his dream finally comes true. It's funnier than it has a right to be. Saint Nicholas is 46 minutes of fine yuletide entertainment. Christian parents will appreciate its charms, though non-Christians may find it a bit too proselytizing (Nicky sums up the episode's moral as, "We don't give to others because it makes us happy. We give to others because we are happy because Jesus first loved us.") But, hey, complaining there's too much Christ in a Christmas special is a little absurd.
Having debuted on VHS in 1993, VeggieTales is one of the earliest adopters of computer-generated animated series. It shows. The quality of the animation, both technically and in terms of the subtlety of the performances, is exemplary for a non-feature film production. The computer models are attractively cartoonish, colors are vivid, and detail is impressive. The show looks superb on DVD. The full frame transfer is crisp, smooth, and flawless. Audio is a well-mixed Dolby 5.1 track in English.
Extras include an art gallery of 15 test and production images with commentary by director Brian Roberts and concept artist Joe Spadaford. Roberts and producer Chris Wall also deliver an audio commentary for the show. There are two sing-along versions of "Donuts for Benny," one in which kids can sing with Mr. Lunt and Benny and one in which they can sing by themselves. There's a discussion guide with four questions that will help parents guide their children through the episode's lesson. In "Family Fun Activity: Bob and Larry's Sugar Cookies," Nicky the Pepper narrates as a family demonstrates how to make the cookies. Finally, there's a music video for "Give This Christmas Away" by Matthew West and Amy Grant, as well as a five-minute featurette promoting Operation Christmas, a charitable program to provide necessities for poor children all over the world.
VeggieTales is innocent enough to please children, and smart enough to keep parents entertained. Saint Nicholas meets the show's high standards.
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