Judge David Johnsons now thinks twice before biting into a plump, juicy...tomato...mmmmm...juicy...
Friends are friends forever. Even if they are autotrophs.
The Big Idea chaps return for their spring installment of talking vegetable Bible-centric good times. Two stories comprise this edition: "The Asparagus of LaMancha" and "Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler."
Facts of the Case
For our first story we meet grizzled old Don Quixote (played here by Archibald Asparagus), the owner of the Café of LaMancha, the only eatery in an arid, dust-bitten town. Life is okay for Archibald, who bides his time serving food to his devoted patrons and playing checkers with his best friend, Poncho. Lately, however, he's been menaced by strange nightmares, which, he believes, foretell the coming of bad times.
And wouldn't you know it, those bad times do arrive, in the form of a gigantic new restaurant called the Food Factory. With its snazzy exterior and awesome selection of comestibles, the villagers flock to the new business, abandoning Don's café. Depressed, Don finds little solace in his life now, unwilling to even listen to the consolations of his best friend. Instead, he loses himself in his feverish dreaming, and attempts to translate what he envisions as guidance. Needless to say, bad idea, and Don will hit rock bottom before Poncho, who's stuck with him the whole way, comes riding to the rescue.
Story #2 is our titular tale, as Sheerluck Holmes (Larry the Cucumber a.k.a Mike Nawrocki), master sleuth, and his loyal and brilliant sidekick Dr. Watson (Bob the Tomato, a.k.a Phil Vischer), are faced with a confounding case: a thief has pilfered "The Golden Ruler," a precious artifact that acts as the cornerstone for all of British life!
The dynamic duo close in on the thief, but when Dr. Watson gets fed up with Sheerluck's incessant glory-hogging, he takes off, leaving the hapless, overwhelmed detective to fend for himself. Will the two repair their fractured friendship, or will they become mortal enemies, neither one resting until the other has been pureed?
Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of VeggieTales. I find these shows consistently well-done, be it in the lush, attractive computer generated animation (an art that it pioneered), or the tight, funny writing, or the constructive lessons they are based on, or, heck, all of the above. Yes it is Bible-themed and God-based, but creators are so skillful at what they do, those of you repelled by the religious aspects would likely feel just-as-entertained by the goings-on of Bob and Larry. The moralistic lessons, while spelled out (e.g. dealing with bullies, sharing, self-worth, and perseverance) are rarely driven in a ham-fisted way. The story comes first for these guys, and the good stuff flows organically from it. (Note the sly use of "organic" when discussing VeggieTales.)
That all being said, it is with a heavy heart that I confess that this disc didn't do too much for me. I blame Don Quixote. I found "The Asparagus of LaMancha" one of the clunkiest VeggieTales shorts I've seen. The pacing meandered, the story was less than engaging, and the trademark wit I've come to expect from Big Idea was largely missing. There were a few bright spots sure (Don's love affair with hot salsa for example), but overall the thing stumbled. The dream stuff didn't really work, and I submit that young kids would probably be confused by its abstractness. And aside from Poncho, none of the characters, especially Don Quixote himself, were endearing. A straight-up bummer.
Thankfully, "Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler" proved to be an entertaining return to form, buttressed by a decent "Silly Song with Larry." Pairing Bob and Larry, the icons for Big Idea, was a great move, and an on-screen dynamic that hadn't been seen in a while. The episode is packed with some really funny bits, including a futile attempt at Scottish translation, a great intro song, and, my favorite, a Fish and Chips gag that had me bellow. The downside is that this good outing was following a sub-par one, and, much like a funny comic trailing another who bombed, it faces an uphill battle. "Sheerluck" made a noble effort, but old Don soured the soup for me.
Both episodes tackle different aspects of friendship, with the first dealing with a friend's loyalty even if the other friend goes off the deep end (the salsa seemed to be eerily analogous to a controlled substance), and the second looking at selflessness. Of the two, the loyalty bit struck me as potentially harder-hitting, but the mediocrity of the cartoon marred the message's potency. Sheerluck and Watson's journey toward a mended relationship was fine, though.
So what else can I say? This is not one of Big Idea's more money releases and, fan that I am, it failed to move and groove me. These guys have set a high standard with their family fare, and the simple truth is Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler couldn't quite rise to the occasion. Still, there's a fair amount of VeggieTale goodness to be found on this disc, and the morals are as sound as ever. And I continue to look forward to the future releases with much eagerness. Let's just forget Don ever sauntered up round hee-yah. Okay?
As usual, this show looks fantastic. The full screen format boasts vivid detailing and strong, bright color levels for the animation. The 5.1 mix is active and makes decent use of the discrete channels. Technically, as strong as ever.
Big Idea loads its discs with extras and this one is no exception, kicking off with a feature-length studio commentary track. And though the behind-the-scenes material is a little sparser than normal with a nine-minute making-of, interview-based spot and an art gallery commentary comprising the peeks behind the magic of VeggieTales, a ton of peripheral bonuses are included. These are:
• "Sheerluck and the Super-Sleuth," a brief
meet-and-greet with a real detective
The funniest bonus continues to be the "veggie commentary," where Nawrocki and Vischer run through selected scenes while hamming it up as their characters.
Big Idea remains the standard-bearers for entertaining, engaging Christian-theme family fun. Yes I rank this release pretty far down on my list of favorites, though it is not devoid of the charm I've come to expect. But, truth be told, if I'm hankering for a serving of Veggie action, I'm tossing in the inspired Lord of the Beans for a second spin.
Bob and Larry are free to go. Don Quixote: you're sentenced to 10 years on a Super Bowl snack platter.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Big Idea
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