Movie(s) Review: Veggie Tales! Veggie Tales!

They’re a little “loud” for my taste (I prefer a more Mr. Rogersesque vibe in my children’s media), but I have to admit, they’re pretty entertaining and they do a good job of teaching scripture stories.

I haven’t found any material or lessons I find objectionable, and many have surprised me with how much I appreciate the lessons taught. For example, An Easter Carol confronts the evils of consumerism and commercialization of sacred holidays, without going so far into zealotry the other direction that it makes me uncomfortable. Madame Blueberry is a full frontal assault on the idea that material things make us happy, even not-so-subtly sending up Wal-Mart. And Sweetpea Beauty is a perhaps cliche, but still much needed, reminder for girls that beauty on the inside is what matters.

This Christmas season, I particularly liked Saint Nicholas: Lesson in Joyful Giving, which teaches about a possible true origin of Santa Claus mythology, again without going too far and ruining any Christmas fun for our Santa-believing children. I see this movie as the beginning of a soft landing for them on the issue.

All of the Bible story editions are well done and make very thorough understanding of the stories accessible to children. My only complaint would be that their use of modified names for the main characters sometimes causes confusion or silliness when we subsequently cover the stories in family scripture study. For example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in veggie form become Rack, Shack and Benny. Update: Ok, my take on the Veggie Tales approach to scripture stories clearly requires more elaboration. (h/t mmiles and Dave Black for the prompting) It cannot be said that Veggie Tales will leave children with a detailed understanding of any scripture story. Here I distinguish between thorough and detailed in a way that should be familiar to any Mormons who are used to correlated style lessons where a coherent how-does-this-relate-to-me message is extracted from each story. I think Veggie Tales does the same thing, and does it well, yielding a thorough understanding of the message behind the story. However, it does this with not only changed names, but many details of the story changed. Sometimes I try to be bothered by this, but ultimately yield to two things. First, from childhood I was raised with a more allegorical approach to OT stories than perhaps most LDS kids, so changing details while retaining the message doesn’t bother me as much as it might bother some. Second, while it’s true that sometimes our scripture study sessions get silly and distracted while kids fixate on the Veggie version, I do like that their brains are engaged and that they have an initial reason to care about the topic. Engaged silliness that can be redirected beats total disengagement any day. /Update

Maybe it reveals some anti-evangelical or anti-mainline Christian bigotry on my part, but I really expected to hate the videos. (Or perhaps because they were most earnestly recommended to me by an irritating, thoroughly out-of-line, home repairman a few years back.) In any case, especially given that they are available for streaming on Netflix, I am a reluctantly converted fan. Any other fans, or any foes, out there? Is there any other mainline Christian children’s media I have been unduly prejudicing and missing out on all these years?

Comments

  1. As one data point, I just went over to Deseret Book’s website to get a sense of what mainstream Mormon judgment of the videos is. I’m glad to see that Deseret Book does carry Veggie Tales items.

  2. When I’m in a really picky mood, I can complain about some of the twists they take with the OT stories, but I like them – and my kids absolutely love the silly songs.

  3. Cynthia,
    I like it fine, think they’re funny and the songs can be entertaining. However I don’t think they teach scripture stories well at all. The names Rack, Shack and Benny aren’t the problem, it’s getting the chocolate bunny to equal God that is. Too many duckies just don’t add up to Bathsheba.
    My kids have been schooled in Veggie Tales for years. We just read the Old Testament as a family last year, those stories did not equate. To the kids they are like apples and oranges (or tomatoes and cucumbers).

  4. Dave Black says:

    I’ve not seen any veggie tale video, but I’ve sure heard about them! Every week in my primary class my telling of an old testament story had to compete with the veggie tale version. The kids seemed to be focused on the gimmicky things of the video presentation and it could be difficult to get their focus on the lesson of the story. OTOH, they do know the stories even if they’d rather talk about the extra story elements peculiar to the video.

  5. Yeah, the Veggie Tales are pretty hilarious. I think my favorite is the David versus Goliath one and mostly because that wad the first one I saw and I laughed pretty hard.

  6. One of our favorite movies is Jonah: A Whales Tale. The music is great, and just thinking about it will probably put some of the songs in my head all day. I thought the movie extrapolated some things from the Jonah story that I hadn’t really thought about before. Things that offer a strong grace-perspective on the whole story. I think Mormons can sometimes embrace a little more grace. ;)

  7. “we can use him as a footstool or a table to play scrabble on, or tie him up and beat him up and throw him out of babylon”

    yup we love veggie tales. The silly songs, the silly bible stories…it’s kind of a lamb’s tales for the bible. Land of perpetual tickling? ..creative stuff.

    I was sad they chose Jonah…it’s a difficult story and harder for children to grasp on to…it lead to their ultimately selling their company to the other guys and has lead to variety in the movies and less spiritual themes (the pirates who don’t do anything)…yet we also have rock monster as a result so can I really complain?

    stream of consciousness posting..try it, it’s fun!

  8. Netflix and having a “Sunday movies” rule brought these Into our house. My only quibble is that they are best in moderation. My favorite is the lord of the ring parody, but only because it features an army of sparks. My kids like the Indiana jones parodies. At least thats what seams to always be on.

  9. Julie M. Smith says:

    “we can use him as a footstool or a table to play scrabble on, or tie him up and beat him up and throw him out of babylon”

    We’ve aged out, but I loved VeggieTales. So witty, and no worries that the kids were going to think that their portrayal _was_ the scripture story. (I would not allow Living Scriptures in my home, for example.)

    And for those wanting to have “Sunday is a special day” media rules but still have the TV babysit your kids for an hour, Veggie Tales can’t be beat. ;)

  10. I love Moe and the Big Exit. I could watch it ten times in a row and not be sick of it. Too bad my kids don’t seem to like Veggie Tales. Huh.

    I also like the Silly Songs with Larry – Sport Utility Vehicle and the “Can You Get My Ball?” one are my favorites.

  11. I love Veggie Tales. On Sundays, our kids are only allowed to watch Veggie Tales or My Neighbor Totoro. They make the messages very clear, but use silliness to get there. Perfecto for my kids,the silliest girls in the universe. And I totally loved the Jonah movie and how they focused so much on Jonah’s need to change his attitude so that he could be more Christlike. I was the Primary pianist this last year and the contrast between the Follow the Prophet verse and the Jonah song from Veggie Tales was interesting.

    Jonah was a prophet, teied to run away,
    But he later learnedto listen and obey.
    When we really try, the Lord won’t let us fail:
    That’s what Jonah learned deepdown inside the whale.

    Vs.

    Jonah was a propher, doo-doo
    But he never really got it, sad-but-true
    He did not get the point.
    Compassion and mercy from me to you and you to me
    Exactly what god wants to see, and yes that is the point.

    See, way better.

  12. Excuse my typos. Still learning my ipad.

  13. Cynthia L. says:

    #12: heh. :-)

    #4: Thanks for bringing that perspective. As I indicated in the post, I have noticed that sometimes our scripture study sessions get sillier than I would like if the kids can’t get the Veggie version out of their minds and won’t stop talking about it. So I definitely know how it can feel. My kids have watched more of the non-scriptural movies than the scriptural ones, so it hasn’t been a case where we just can’t have a single FHE without hitting this problem. I can see how as a Sunday School teacher it might get really annoying.

    #3: “The names Rack, Shack and Benny aren’t the problem, it’s getting the chocolate bunny to equal God that is. Too many duckies just don’t add up to Bathsheba.” Interesting. I guess having been raised on correlated type lessons where everything is “how does this relate to me,” and a more allegorical/non-historical approach to scripture than perhaps many LDS kids, the Veggie Tales approach seems fine to me. I’m happy that my kids are extracting some kind of coherent, relevant message from the stories, even if the details of the stories are changed around quite a bit. Even if I have to re-explain the entire thing to thing when we study the actual scripture version, I feel like their brains are engaged, that they have an initial foothold of a reason to care about the topic. While sometimes their silliness does irritate me, I try to remind myself that it can be better to have engaged silliness than total disengagement.

  14. Cynthia L. says:

    #11: Yes! Some of the relate-to-me messages that Veggie Tales has shoehorned the Bible stories into strike me as better fits than the some of the standard ones we use. Jonah being a perfect example.

  15. StillConfused says:

    Veggie Tales is one of the most horrific experiences that I have ever had to endure!

  16. SC, please elaborate!

  17. At least the added silly details of Veggietales, it’s pretty easy for kids to grasp what’s real about the story vs. what’s made up and cartoon-ish. The few times that my kids have watched Living Scriptures videos (choir nursery), they’re full of details like, “did you know that Laban’s sword looks like ….?!”

    It’s much harder for them to see what imaginative details the Living scriptures poeple put into the cartoon b/c it seems so much like a complete and accurate retelling of the scripture story. Veggietales is acknowledged to be silly and they’re mostly trying to get the moral across, with a basic version of the story.

  18. Julie M. Smith says:

    Yes, jes, my thoughts exactly.

  19. When I first heard about Veggie Tales, I was skeptical, but once I actually watched it, I was immediately converted. They are just too freaking cute.

    All of my kids love them, even the 12-year-old.

  20. We have also used veggie tales for Sunday babysitting.

  21. We lived overseas when the Living Scriptures B o M stories were relatively new and we took a whole set with us for the kids to watch. THey were great to a point — they told a story and the kids learned the stories as they watched them over and over (the way kids watch videos). But we found when we read the story in the Book of Mormon, they’d add the details from the Living Scripture videos as if it were truth and it took some effort to get them to imagine other alternatives.

    Perhaps because in Veggie Tales were were dealing with, well, vegetables we didn’t have the same problem walking from the videos to other interpretations. But we have found our kids who were VT-watchers clung to the stories as well as the LS-watchers did before them.

    I say anything that gets the kids thinking about the scripture stories is a good thing.

  22. Sure Cynthia. They learn a lesson, and can draw on allegories and messages just as much as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Free Willy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But I think teaching the straight story is better for what the scriptures are actually saying.

    I think lessons can be learned about sending someone to the battle of the pie war and taking a pie in the face when one wants a duckie and already has so many–but I don’t at all think David and Bathsheba is about wanting more of what you already have. (Although doing whatever you can to get what you want, does.)

    But I’m not sure it matters. I’m not interested in teaching my three-year-old about adultery. I don’t think when I do teach him when he’s older that he’ll put duckies and concubines and Bathsheba together unless I point it out (unless he’s quite a bit older), which I may.

    Besides, if we really wanted to go that far, we’d be saying that all women are the same (like duckies), which isn’t a message I want to send at all. But because I don’t think they’re getting any real gospel message that they don’t learn in daily life anyway (don’t take what’s not yours and play nice), I really don’t care.

  23. BTW, my husband completely disagrees with me. He thinks the kids immediately got King Neb. because of Rack, Shack and Benny. So there is that.

  24. As for me and my house, we love Veggie Tales!

    We’ve been fans for many years, probably more for the witty dialogue than anything else. The Silly Songs with Larry will stick with you, too (Like : The Hairbrush Song, Dance of the Cucumber, Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything) We just watched “It’s a Meaningful Life” a couple of weeks ago, very charming. (Main character: Stewart, kids “Art and Barney” ;) ) The animation is pretty fun, as well, particularly since the veggies don’t have hands or feet, so a VT football game?

    It’s nice to have videos we can watch with younger children in our house, with a clean message. It’s obvious that it’s a Christian production, but they’re not that heavy-handed about it (until you get to the wrap-up, this is what we have learned)

    We tried out 3-2-1 Penguins, also from Big Idea, but we don’t find them nearly as fun to watch.

  25. #3: “The names Rack, Shack and Benny aren’t the problem, it’s getting the chocolate bunny to equal God that is. Too many duckies just don’t add up to Bathsheba.”

    The chocolate bunny = the idol Nebuchadnezzer created, so it makes as much sense as a giant golden statue.

    And I suspect kids relate to wanting more toys better than wanting more women to sleep with.

    And we enjoy all the movies. Youngest loves The Ballad of Little Joe, they all love LarryBoy’s adventures, and my favorite is Lord of the Beans – Keebler-esque elves and sporks. And silly songs too.

  26. I lurve VeggieTales.

  27. Struwelpeter says:

    How can you not like God sending a pizza delivery angel to feed the lions and save Daniel?

  28. Love, love, love Veggietales.

    Can’t stand Living Scriptures.

  29. “And I suspect kids relate to wanting more toys better than wanting more women to sleep with. “

    Exactly. The danger, of course, with Veggie Tales’ approach to building heavy interpretation into the presentation of the stories is that if I, as a parent, disagree with the interpretation, I can’t use the video at all. Worry about rampant problems of this kind is mainly what kept me from watching Veggie Tales for so long. But I am continually impressed by how much I agree with their design and interpretation decisions.

  30. Streaming on Netflix brought them to our house as well, and I too was quite surprised at how well done the show is. Surprised because I think the quality is on par with major studio cartoons, but it’s actually religious, like they’re actually telling the stories with a thorough (as you nicely put it) telling of what they mean. I’ve yet to find a story whose telling I disagree with, and we’ve watched everything available on Netflix at least once.

  31. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    we think Esther is their best piece.

    “….if ever one day I were Queen…. <> WOOF.”

  32. I remember reading an interview with the Veggie Tales creator where they mentioned that Big Idea is actually quite ecumenical. They said that they had Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and all kinds of Christians employed there, that they try very hard to make the messages of their movies have broad appeal even though they’re ultimately the brain child of evangelicals. So I’d say there’s a good reason you’re not horribly offended by Veggie Tales.

    My biggest complaint about the series for the longest time was that its use of female characters sucks. For the first 11 years or so of the series, the only recurring females on the show were Laura Carrot, Mrs. Asparagus and Madame Blueberry, and they usually got bit parts.

    This has been remedied somewhat in recent years with the introduction of Petunia Rhubarb. The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything movie had a very bold, forward young princess and gave girlfriends/wives to Mr. Lunt and Pa Grape with Petunia as Larry’s girlfriend. My favorite episode ever was “LarryBoy and the Bad Apple,” in part because out of the five principle characters (LarryBoy, Alfred, Petunia Rhubarb, Mayor Blueberry, and Bad Apple), three are female.

    Or in other words, feminism is my hammer and sometimes everything–and I do mean everything–becomes a nail.

    Also, I saw the Jonah movie in theaters in undergrad in 2002, before I got married or had kids of my own. I thought it was brilliant.

  33. Adam Greenwood says:

    “without going so far into zealotry the other direction that it makes me uncomfortable”

    That’s the Veggie Tales MO. In fact, they do it so much that I feel uncomfortable.

    Anyone who feels comfortable after reading the NT or the Book of Mormon or listening to Conference is either saintly or has matched my unmatchable powers of rationalization.

  34. Cynthia L. says:

    Interesting point, Adam. I certainly wouldn’t want all the religious messaging in my life to be the kind that doesn’t make me uncomfortable. That would essentially defeat the purpose of the gospel, and of life. But two things: (1) we may be conflating two different definitions of “uncomfortable”–there’s “that makes me uncomfortably recognize my sin,” and there, “I’m uncomfortable listening to this doctrinally incorrect nutbar.” I was sort of expecting Veggie Tales to be in the latter category, and I’ve been so pleased that they’re not. (2) Veggie Tales isn’t the totality of my religious media.

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