Talking cucumbers make Judge David Johnson laugh.
Sunday morning values. Saturday morning fun! (Now with Elves!)
VeggieTales, the standard-setter in quality and entertainment for family-friendly, Bible-based animation, presents their newest creation, a take-off on Lord of the Rings, featuring talking trees, cucumber swordsmen, and marauding Sporks.
Facts of the Case
Our tale begins with a young Flobbit named Toto Baggypants (played here by Junior Asparagus) who discovers a magical bean that allows the owner to grow anything he/she/it would want.
But how should he use this amazing gift? With the help of the wise wizard Randalf, the deft swordsman Ear-a-Corn, wily Elf Leg-o-Lamb, Leg-o-Lamb's brother who had nothing else going on that day, and Grumpy the dwarf, Toto journeys to the Land of Woe to find out.
His quest will not be without danger, though, as he and his cohorts must brave the wintry menace of Much-Snowia, the cranky trees of Raspberry Forest, and the fearsome army of Sporks, under the control of Lord Scaryman.
What will become of our brave roughage-turned-adventurers?!
For this kind of niche family entertainment, Big Idea and VeggieTales remain unsurpassed. Actually, strike that "niche" part; that's unfair to the creative minds behind this charming series. Lord of the Beans is a funny, wholesome, extremely entertaining piece of animated storytelling, regardless of your religious beliefs.
The obvious disclaimer is, of course, if you're not keen on the Bible-based kiddie fare, then you probably wouldn't be interested in this release. Yes the Christian themes in this feature, as well as with other Big Idea releases are overt, but the lessons are never preachy and the morals never heavy-handed.
For Lord of the Beans, the targeted lesson is "Using Your Gifts." Needless to say, the end result is a selfless, generous action, the point being to use one's gifts to help others. Come on, who can't get behind that?
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at the actual feature. Basically, it's great. All the trademark wit is present, and for fans of The Lord of the Rings movies, Big Idea has packed their little homage silly with references.
Lord of the Beans isn't really a parody of Peter Jackson's films, but instead goofs on some of the characters and elements to forge something different. I appreciated this tactic over a straight-out spoof, as it would have likely come across as too contrived.
By integrating elements from the film trilogy into an original story, director Mike Nawrocki and writer Phil Vischer (the original creators of VeggieTales) have created a nicely-balanced show: there's enough VeggieTales-specific charm mixed with clever hat-tips to the movies that adults will enjoy.
Some of these subtle touches include the soundtrack and DVD presentation, which are reminiscent of the DVD treatment of the films, shots taken directly from the films (a close-up of the ground as the Sporks walk over it, with drumbeats in the distance), and twists on familiar bits of dialogue ("I'm feeling stretched, like chocolate pudding spread over too much ham").
Lord of the Beans is as enjoyable as a VeggieTales episode I've seen and manages to become a stand-alone episode, imbibed with thematic elements from the films it's having fun with, without being hamstrung from sticking too close to parody. It's a definite pick-up for fans of the series and worthy of a glance for anyone wanting a bit more message in their animation.
The animation is rich and colorful and the full screen transfer does it justice. Additionally, I was pleased with the 5.1 surround mix as it made excellent use of the discrete channels.
Big Idea knows how to do DVD, and this discs is loaded with small, bite-sized special features. For the obligatory making-of stuff, there's a featurette on how the story was fabricated and a behind-the-scenes segment with interviews from the cast and crew.
Here's what remains:
• "It's About Love" Wynonna Music Video
The funniest bonus is the veggie commentary, where Nawrocki and Vischer run through selected scenes as the voices of the characters. A lot of it appears to be improvised and it's a hoot.
In my opinion, Big Idea is the benchmark for Christian-themed children's entertainment. Granted that might be a small category, but even beyond the boundaries of Bible-focused fun, VeggieTales can run with the big boys of family animation. Lord of the Beans is no exception.
Not guilty. Pass the dip.
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