I was sitting in the movie theatre this evening preparing to view a special advanced screening of "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie" with a wonderful friend from church, Sarah, who was even more excited than myself about "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," the latest full-length feature from the folks at Big Idea Productions that is due to be released in theatres nationwide on January 11, 2008.
Sarah may not seem like the typical target audience for the folks at "Big Idea Productions" who bring us Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and a host of other animated characters offering a wide diversity of life lessons, moral teachings, biblical principles and goofy yet innocent fun.
After all, Sarah is in her early 20's, far from what I'd consider to be immature and an intelligent young woman in her first year of medical school.
Yet, she loves VeggieTales.
Heck, so do I and I'm 42. Of course, I'm not very mature. So, it's easier to explain with me.
Yet, as we were sitting in the auditorium surrounded largely by young famlies and children, I began to contemplate what has allowed VeggieTales to remain so popular that it's now added up to TWO full-length feature films after the relatively unexpected box-office success of 2002's "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie."
After all, let's be honest. "Christian" and "Film" usually add up to badly acted, modestly produced, preach-o-rama with mild box-office receipts...well, unless you're Mel Gibson.
Why is VeggieTales different? What makes a VeggieTales film work where so many others have failed?
The answer, I believe, is quite simple...God. Now, before you start thinking I'm being sacrilegious or crass, please at least hear me out.
I am in no way giving God credit for the box-office receipts of an animated film. In fact, in all honesty, I believe that God loves the makers of "Saw IV" as much as he loves the makers of "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything."
That is, in fact, my point. I believe, in terms of my own personal theology, that God is accessible.
So often, Christians can sabotage their own desires to preach, evangelize and/or simply reach out to others by painting God into a corner and, when it comes right down to it, making God inaccessible to everyone.
I believe in an accessible God. I believe in a God who loves everyone and longs to find a way into our hopes, dreams, challenges, joys, sorrows, failures, etc. I don't believe in a God who cares about our age, race, body type, denomination, job, title, money or any of those other things we use to separate ourselves from one another.
Why does VeggieTales work so well in reaching a wide audience? Because, VeggieTales makes God accessible to a widely diverse audience regardless of their age, race, body type, denomination, job, title, money, etc.
As I was sitting next to Sarah, both of us periodically laughing heartily and saying "AWWWWWWWWWWW" throughout the film I began to realize that VeggieTales is one of those unexpected places we find God and love and faith and hope. In VeggieTales, and most definitely in "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," I can be the person I believe I am called to be...faithful, hopeful, loving, gentle, beautiful, wonderful, courageous and wise. In a world that so often tells us just the opposite, the VeggieTales world is a world of universal hope.
"The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" is unlikely to win any Oscars. In all honesty, it probably won't even be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award. Yet, "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" continues the Big Idea tradition of offering stories and characters that mirror our own real life experiences and serve to remind us that love is real, there is always hope and, perhaps more than anything, that we matter...to God and to one another.
In "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," we have three of the veggie pals who work in a pirate-themed dinner theatre as cabin boys/servers yet long to be part of the show. Elliott (Larry the Cucumber), Sedgewick (Mr. Lunt) and George (Pa Grape) are timid, lazy and insecure, respectively. Yet, as we often learn in the Veggietales world, we are seldom what we seem on the outside.
The boys are pulled into action, and back in time, when a "helpseeker" sent forth by a beautiful princess finds them and sends them back to the 1700's to rescue a prince and princess from their estranged brother, a pirate named Robert the Terrible.
Sound silly? I assure you it is silly. In all honesty, the majority of you reading this film are already thinking to yourself "There's no way I'm seeing this film." This review is not for you.
This review is for those of you living a life of faith. Christian faith? Perhaps. Yet, as I learned when I viewed "Jonah," I dare not limit myself to a certain audience when this film, as was true with "Jonah," manages to effectively teach biblical principles without ever resorting to preachiness or even ever using the word "God" or "Bible." I viewed "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" with an atheist friend of mine...and, much to my surprise, she absolutely loved it.
Again, VeggieTales makes God accessible in beautiful and wondrous ways.
"The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" is a delightful story with the Big Idea tradition of wonderfully drawn characters who will appeal to both adults and children. The voice work is delightful across the board, most notably that for Larry the Cucumber (Mike Nawrocki, who also directs the film), George (Phil Vischer, who also wrote the screenplay), Jolly Joe (Tim Hodge) and, well, the rest of the ensemble cast.
While "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" starts a tad slowly, as evidenced by the squirming and talking of young children, the film springs to life once the three unexpected heroes begin sailing the high sees and the adventure truly begins. The animation itself is simple, yet effective and consistent with what we've come to know and love with the VeggieTales.
As has come to be expected from VeggieTales, the music is absolutely delightful. You simply must stay through the credits, however, as a closing music number spinning off of the B-52's novelty tune "Rock Lobster" is unquestionably one of 2007's most energizing and heartwarming musical numbers. Likewise, a variety of Christian artists make up the soundtrack including Newsboys and Tobymac.
While "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" didn't quite move me or entertain me on the level of 2002's "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," it is nonetheless a wonderfully entertaining and heartfelt film with positive life lessons and valuable insights for adults and children of all ages. Parents, especially those with younger children, will find numerous opportunities for post-viewing conversations and those little teachable moments that are so important for our children.
Sometimes in life, the greatest lessons come in the most unexpected of places. How else can you explain a 24-year-old medical student and a 42-year-old cynical movie critic sitting in an auditorium filled with small children and having a really wonderful time.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic