Skip to main content
#
The Independent Critic

 Mike Nawrocki Interview 

In 1993, the world of computer-generated animation and full-length animated features was just beginning. We were still a year away from Pixar's break-through "Toy Story" when two college buddies, Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, started dabbling with the idea of CG animation while working together at a video post-production house. The two friends started a project that generated the first full-length computer generated film and went direct to video. Since 1993, "VeggieTales," the faith-based animated world created by Nawrocki and Vischer, has sold over 50 million DVD's, the surprise box-office hit "Jonah- A VeggieTales Movie" and, now, their second full-length feature "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," a nationwide release opening January 11, 2008 and distributed by Universal Pictures.  

The Independent Critic spoke by telephone with "VeggieTales" co-founder and director of "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" Mike Nawrocki in a conversation that covered everything from Rock Monsters to life as a world-famous cucumber.

IC
I suppose we should start with the obvious...Tell me about "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," your latest film.

MIKE NAWROCKI
The story itself first appeared in my head shortly after writing "VeggieTales: Silly Songs With Larry." The first song written for the film goes back to a college singing group. I composed a song about things three slackers hadn't done. It included silly lines such as "And I've never kissed a chipmunk/And I've never gotten head lice/And I've never been to Boston in fall."
 
Mentally, I assigned the song to Larry-Boy, Mr. Lunt and Pa Grape thinking "Alright, you're the pirates who don't do anything." As Phil and I were writing "Jonah," we had to ask ourselves "On whose boat would Jonah get back to Nineveh?" The answer became these three pirates.
 
Not long after "Jonah" was released in 2002, Phil started working on the script for "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" and within a couple months it was done. We actually had the story for "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" even before the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" came out. Of course, it has been a long road and we've had some challenges along the way.
 
IC
That has been a long journey. You've talked about being very happy with the finished film. Tell me about that...What's made you so happy with "Pirates" and how do you feel about your film?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
I've never been as happy or as proud of a product as I am of this film. As I sat and watched the final run-through, I couldn't believe I still enjoyed watching it so much- that being my 4,000,000th time!
 
IC
I was in the film's pre-screening here in Indianapolis. The audience loved it. They were into the characters, the music, the pacing.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Really? That's great to hear.
 
IC
Was it easier this time? You've been through this once before. "Jonah" was a hit, unexpectedly so by many. It has to be hard in the days leading up to the film's opening.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Oh, it is. I'm nervous. It's all good, though. It's fun. In some ways it's easier this time, because I know more of what to expect. I know about screenings and distribution and opening weekend. "Jonah" was also fully funded in-house and "Pirates" is being distributed by a major studio (Universal). That has been exciting. It's been great to see a lot more advertising, more screening. It has also helped, though, that part of the team from Artisan that helped distribute "Jonah" is now with Universal and working on "Pirates."
 
IC
That's true. How did that happen? Was that a result of the success of "Jonah?"
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
That was certainly part of it. I think, in general, Hollywood is being more receptive to the faith-based market after the success of such films as "Passion of the Christ" and "Chronicles of Narnia."
 
IC
Describe "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" for me.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
If you know "VeggieTales," you know that about half of our releases are telling bible stories and half are re-telling stories from popular genres. "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" is a parable, sort of an allegory. Nearly all "VeggieTales" films have a key lesson and in "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" we learn that a hero is someone who does the right thing even when it is really, really hard. The film's three pirates are: 1) Eliot, who fears everything, 2) Sedgewick, who is unmotivated, and 3) George, who has no backbone.In the film, the King calls the three pirates into their courageous deeds and when they are faithful to this calling each of the three is always equipped to handle the task at hand.
 
IC
Just as God does with us?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Exactly. When we answer God's call in our lives, we are equipped for what God is calling us to do.
 
IC
One of the things I've always appreciated about "VeggieTales" is how the lessons can appeal to a wide audience. While your stories and lessons are obviously faith-based, they are communicated wonderfully. When I saw "Jonah," for example, I saw it with an atheist friend.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Really?
 
IC
Yes. AND, she loved it. She loved the story, the animation, the lessons. It opened a dialogue between us that I'm not sure any other life experience could have opened.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Wow, that's wonderful. Thank you for sharing that.
 
IC
You're welcome. As I was reading through your history, I saw that you worked at the video post-production facility during college. I didn't really see an arts background, though. How did this all happen for you?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
I never expected to be a filmmaker. As a kid, I loved storytelling. I've always loved storytelling. I also did puppet shows. I was creative, but I never thought about a career in it. I was attending Crown College in Minnesota. I was in pre-med and preparing for my MCAT. I worked at the post-production facility to work my way through college. I met Phil and we started making goofy little films and about the time the MCAT came around we'd obtained funding to start our project together.
 
IC
And here you are! Was that hard on your parents? Did they think you were nuts? Giving up medical school for this?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
<laughs> Mom had bought me a leather-bound "Gray's Anatomy." I still have it. It's hardly been opened <chuckles>. Seriously, though, my parents were very supportive. They knew me. They knew what a goofball I was with my goofy little films. They saw that I had a passion for it.
 
IC
You've shared before that you've occasionally had animators who would come in thinking that animating vegetables would be easy. How DID the idea of vegetables come up?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
That's very true. Hands help you express. We focus on facial animation since there are no limbs involved except with some of our supporting characters. For example, in "Pirates" we have the Rock Monsters. Phil actually started working on the idea on his computer. The first character was actually a candy bar. His wife walked by the computer, saw it and said "If you're creating this for kids, mothers would appreciate it if you picked healthy foods."
 
IC
How funny.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Of course, there were other issues. This was the very beginning of computer-generated animation and, of course, we didn't have the budget of Pixar. Limbs were hard for animators and so we kept it simple. Vegetables worked out quite well and over the years the animation has become more complex. One of the reasons I'm so pleased with "Pirates" is that I really feel like we've been able to step up a notch visually. We've created new types of characters and really raised the bar. You can really see every dollar spent on the movie screen.
 
IC
What do you hope kids and families take home from "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything?"
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
I hope that they see the film as really entertaining, a fun adventure and that they get the film's key lesson about what it means to be a hero. I hope they grow as much as I have making it.
 
 
IC
What's in the future for "VeggieTales?" Do you see more films?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
I would love more "VeggieTales" films. I'd also love to do more "3-2-1! Penguins!" programs. We've worked on an idea for a "Bob & Larry Movie" about how they met. The next direct-to-video release will be "Huckleberry Larry & Tomato Sawyer." I also really enjoy Larry's "Silly Songs."
 
IC
I read on the website that you've got children. Are they "VeggieTales" fans?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Definitely. They are definitely "VeggieTales" fans. When they were younger, they would sort of see "Larry-Boy" and Daddy as two different people. They would tell "Larry-Boy" things they wouldn't tell me. My daughter Ally, who is 9, actually voices a couple characters in this film including the Rock Monster girl. My son, Michael, is 6-years-old and loves VeggieTales, too.
 
IC
Okay. Speaking of Rock Monster. Fans of the B-52's "Rock Lobster" will just scream in delight with your take called "Rock Monster." How did you manage that?
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Actually, it was simple. We called up their publisher and they were very okay with it. We paid a fee, of course. We also have music from Newsboys, Steve Taylor, TobyMac.
 
IC
The music is wonderful and it goes very well with the film.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Thanks. I think so, too.
 
IC
I know you need to get going. It's only three days before your film opens, but I simply must ask...how did you decide who would voice who? How did you become "Larry-Boy?"
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
<At this point, Mike slips into the voice of "Larry-Boy"> The voice for Larry really started during college when I was doing a puppet show. The voice has evolved over the years. Back then, it was goofier and had sort of a lisp. I used the voice during other times, for example, co-hosting radio shows and during other public appearances. When it came down to Bob and Larry, Larry just fit me and Bob really fits Phil. I am a lot like Larry, though Larry is more extroverted than me. I'm more introverted and Larry allows me to express myself more openly.
 
IC
I really appreciate your taking time with me today. I've really enjoyed our conversation.
 
MIKE NAWROCKI
Thank you.
 
Be sure to read The Independent Critic's review of "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything." For more information on VeggieTales or Big Idea, visit the Big Idea website.
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

    our twitterour facebook page pintrestgoogle pluslinkdin

    The Independent Critic © 2008 - 2019