Judge David Johnson does in fact like to talk to tomatoes, and yes, cucumbers do make him smile.
Sunday morning values, Saturday morning fun.
Big Idea's long-running and highly successful VeggieTales series has garnered creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki boatloads of fans and mainstream success. Does this newest offering live up to the reputation of Bible-based lessons and rich wit that the previous episodes have earned, or are the Veggies this go-round better off as finger food?
Facts of the Case
VeggieTales works like this: For each show Big Idea produces, the component stories deal with a central theme or moral. This moral is set up in the beginning by our hosts, Bob the Tomato (voiced by Vischer) and Larry the Cucumber (voiced by Nawrocki).
Minnesota Cuke tackles the big question of how to deal with bullies. These lessons are all couched in Biblical teaching, with Bible verses and stories and God frequently referenced throughout the episode.
The first animated short stars recurring favorite Junior Asparagus, a little guy with a robust imagination who suddenly finds himself confronted with a power-mad squash (I think it's a squash). He and his diminutive veggie friends are driven off the playground, and Junior seeks counsel from his father. Daddy Asparagus urges Junior to be brave, drawing on God's courage and, if need be, "turning the other cheek."
So Junior and the gang return to face off with the bully—but what will become of them? The interlude is a VeggieTales staple, "Silly Songs with Larry." The song, "Pizza Angel," finds Larry lamenting in musical verse the long wait he has to endure for his pizza.
Finally is the titular story: "Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Samson's Hairbrush." Running a shade north of twenty minutes, this story features Larry as the adventurous Minnesota Cuke (aping Indiana Jones) who is racing against the nefarious Professor Rattan in search of the legendary hairbrush thought to hold the secret to Samson's extraordinary power (as told in the Old Testament).
I go way back with VeggieTales. Big Idea played a pivotal role in the development of computer animation as a form of storytelling, and their foresight has paid off with overwhelming commercial success.
In case the point hasn't come across as clearly as I've tried to convey it, let me restate for the record: VeggieTales are Bible-based, featuring lesson-driven stories stemming from biblical morals. Big Idea doesn't go for biblical undertones; the filmmakers are up-front about the themes, and they skillfully find a middle ground between wishy-washy generic "spirituality" and blatant proselytizing. Just so you know going in. Personally, I appreciate their approach, as—in the interest of full disclosure—an Evangelical often dismayed at the noticeable void of authentically witty and well-done Christian entertainment.
The VeggieTales series is noteworthy both for its technical prowess and the fun and creativity that it pulls off; it's got the style and the substance. If you're a parent uncomfortable with animated vegetables talking about God, setting aside any theological leanings the series has, know this: The folks behind Big Idea have crafted another highly entertaining, immensely creative program of great animation with a positive message.
Though the first bit with Junior Asparagus came across as a bit on the corny side, and "Pizza Angel" wasn't one of Larry's best silly songs, the Minnesota Cuke adventure was a gas. The short is crammed with tons of inside jokes about both Indiana Jones movies and action flicks in general. Parents should get a real kick out of watching the riffs Big Idea throws down on Indy (e.g., Minnesota runs from a giant rolling snowball head, explores familiar catacombs, and, after looking into a dark pit and seeing a multitude of earthworms, says, "Worms. Why does it have to be worms?") I also found the moral of the story more rewarding than the preceding short. Here, Cuke learns the hard lesson of forgoing revenge on enemies and trying to love them instead. The biblical story of Samson, the Israelite granted great strength by God but who later lost it because of his failure to obey, is interwoven masterfully.
Overall, Minnesota Cuke is another great episode in a superb series of family entertainment. Despite a so-so start, the feature really picks up steam and becomes the signature positive-message great fun that VeggieTales are renowned for.
Big Idea really knows how to do DVD. Despite a full-frame transfer (hey, appreciating widescreen is a core value for kids to learn too!) the video is crystal clear. The rich colors leap off of the screen, and the detailed animation is superb. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix even accompanies, and it sounds great, using discrete channels well.
But it's with the bonus features that these guys really go for broke. Cartloads of varied extra materials await. A behind-the-scenes feature brings in the filmmakers to comment on the process of bringing Bob and Larry to life as well as offering their personal stories of being bullied. That last bit is a great touch, truly augmenting the message the episode itself delivers. A feature-long commentary track by cast and crew is a bit disappointing, just because the sound quality seems a little muted. A special "veggie commentary" is hilarious, though, with abbreviated scenes from the Minnesota Cuke adventure commented on by the "cast" (Professor Rattan: "You were like Arnold Schwarzenegger in that scene!") In addition you get country singer Charlie Daniels performing a music video and giving an interview, an art gallery featuring concept paintings with artist commentary, and an audio feature detailing the use of sound in the episode.
The second part of the bonus features is family-oriented: video trivia, a sing-along, interactive games, a storybook, a family activity, a drawing lesson, and even a recipe. Some previews and DVD-ROM content round out this robust list.
VeggieTales is pretty much the premium for Bible-centric family entertainment. Minnesota Cuke continues the tradition; it's witty, a joy to look at, drenched in all kinds of positive messages, and, most important of all, fun. And with the amount of extra stuff on board, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck with this disc.
Not guilty. Now go get "cuked" up.
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