Jonah: A Veggietales Movie (2002) — A whale of a tale

“Steak! Steak! Eat it, eat it! Shrimp! Shrimp! Need it, need it.”

Justin’s rating: Last I checked, a caterpillar wasn’t a veggie!

Justin’s review: Back in college, my friend Bob was well-known for having odd tastes in… well, everything. He’d read the complete works of John Calvin or War and Peace just for fun. So when he came into our dorm room one day, his muppety face alight with childish glee, waving around a new Christian children’s video that we absolutely must watch, we got wary. We thought of tranquilizing Bob, for his own good. The man seriously drinks too much coffee.

But we did give this computer animated series a chance, and the singing, wise-cracking gang of produce known as VeggieTales made us regret ever doubting Bob and hiding his corpse. For the uninitiated (I’m guessing that’s pretty much all of you), VeggieTales features the responsible and much put-upon Bob the Tomato and his pal, the ever silly and ditzy Larry the Cucumber. Their once-every-six-months video releases were a hodge-podge of goofy moral parables, re-envisioned Bible classics (such as the walls of Jericho being patrolled by the French Peas a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and some of the best, most memorable musical numbers to come out of an animated series. While it’s clearly aimed at youngsters, it’s got the old Looney Toons spirit of hiding clever jokes that only adults will get.

So, I’m a fan of VeggieTales. Nothing rabid (this healthy layer of froth comes from my obsessive tooth brushing), but definitely solid. Veggie Tales is one of the rare Christian media efforts that manages to stay true to its message without alienating, being overly preachy or incredibly cheesy (see The Omega Code for examples of those three). And it’s made me glad that I’m not a huge vegetable eater, too.

I took my youth group to see Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, the franchise’s first big-screen effort, hoping against hope for some new Silly Songs With Larry. Alas, none were to be found. Instead of their usual “chopped up into bite-sized pieces” format, Jonah pretty much goes through the old Testament story of a prophet, his cowardice, a big fish, and a strange weed from beginning to end. This is bookended by a story that has Bob and company stranded in a Seafoo Place, meeting the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (who tell the tale of Jonah).

The computer animation is top-notch (for a hoot, compare to the original 1993 VeggieTales CGI, which had few round surfaces whatsoever). The jokes range from abstractly silly (such as playing Go Fish during a monster of a sea storm) to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Alf. The musical numbers are solid, particularly the opening ditty the kids are singing in the van. Still, it all came out to be lacking. I think this suffered from the common Stretched Syndrome that most 30 minute shows face when they’re forced to take material best suited for a short stint and make it last for three times that long. Larry and Bob — the comedic flagpole of the show — have such little interaction here that it makes one yearn for their old fashioned kitchen top bickerings. I had a good feeling that the humor here still serves best on a small screen level, blossoming after repeated viewings… but it was a little thin for a first serving.

(I’ll admit that I was very curious to see how they’d resolve the story of Jonah, since in the Bible it ends on a cliffhanger. I won’t ruin what they did, but it did the job.)

Still, it made me a bit happy when I walked out of the theater, and I know why. Filmmakers are endlessly delighted to showcase the pit of humanity, the dregs of soullessness repeatedly, yet so few take an effort to turn the spotlight onto something positive, moral and daresay… wholesome? Yet it’s always interesting to note that audiences (like me) are craving — if subconsciously — films that highlight the highest standards that people can achieve.

Yes, Jonah is going to hit you over the head with a broad oar telling you that “compassion”, “mercy”, and “second chances” are so important to have and show toward others. Is that in any way offensive? Or is it something to be celebrated and shown to kids, who are constantly taught by TV and other movies to think of themselves first always?

One comment

  1. I remember watching VeggieTales for the first time on the bus on the way down to Campus Crusade for Christ’s spring break event in Panama City Florida.
    Also, I may have been the stereotypical 90s youth group girl, but they were fun.

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