Idea: Honest to God, These Stories are Funny as Hell
of Big Idea's latest release -- "Lyle the Kindly Viking"
-- as well as the company's forthcoming theatrical release --
"Jonah," Jim Hill tries to explain the quirky pleasures
to be found when one watches the "VeggieTales" and "3-2-1
Penguins" video series.
In his stand-up
act, comedian George Carlin does a wonderful piece of material
about sentences that he's sure have never been spoken before.
Among the examples he cites are:
me that piano."
help me saw my legs off."
what you want with the girl, but leave me alone!"
Well, in the
great George Carlin tradition, I'm now going to write a sentence
that I'm pretty sure has never been written before: "These
children's bible stories are funny as hell."
And yet --
as unlikely as the above sentence may seem -- it's completely
true, folks. At least when it comes to children's bible stories
as they're told by the crew at Big Idea.
And what exactly
is Big Idea? It's this neat little computer animation company
that operates out of that happening 'burg; Lombard, IL. The folks
at Big Idea have discovered this very interesting thing: that
there's actually a market out there for quality children's programming
of a spiritual nature. Provided -- of course -- that this programming
mixes spirituality with equal amounts of silliness.
disclaimer here: Before any of you Digital Media FX readers get
confused and think that I'm just championing Big Idea and its
spiritual line of products just because their video tapes do an
excellent job of spreading the word of the Gospel ... Let me blunt
here, folks: I am *NOT* a religious person. I can't remember the
last time I was inside a church. And given the way I've been behaving
lately, I'd have to assume that -- if there is indeed an after-life
-- that I'm in the express line to Hell. You know? Down to three
virtues or less?
I *STILL* find the stuff that the folks at Big Idea churn out
highly entertaining. (Congratulations, guys! You just cracked
the agnostic market.)
So what is
it that makes the programs that Big Idea puts out so entertaining
to right-minded religious folks as well as heathens like myself?
It's simple, really. Not since the late Charles Schulz was working
at the very top of his game while drawing his acclaimed "Peanuts"
comic strip has there been something that was this silly but profound.
Others have made comparisons between the VeggieTales characters
and the late Jim Henson's Muppets. Each features a lovable bunch
of misfits who alternately be sweet & gentle but still wildly
I think Bob the Tomato and the Little French Peas have quite a
bit in common with Bert, Ernie and the rest of the "Sesame
Street" gang. After all, each of these sets of characters
has an ability to make education painless. The viewers are so
busy being entertained that they hardly have time to realize that
they've just inadvertently learned something.
not forget about entertainment, folks. Because that's the real
beauty of Big Idea's "VeggieTales" and "3-2-1 Penguins"
series. These programs obviously play at several different levels.
There's enough broad humor to hold the kids' interest. And yet
I've also noticed there's a lot of sly, snarky material that the
animators must be slipping just to increase the adult appeal of
the "VeggieTale" programs.
Take -- for
instance -- Big Idea's latest production, "Lyle the Kindly
Viking: A Lesson in Sharing." Sure, youngsters will get a
chuckle out of Larry the Cucumber's heartfelt rendition of "My
High Silk Hat." But was it really the under-six set that
Big Idea's animators were aiming for when they opened this segment
of the "Viking" video with a Forest Gump tribute?
And who else
but the folks at Big Idea would figure out a way within a VeggieTales
version of "Hamlet" (Only this time around, Shakespeare's
tragedy is titled "Omelet." And the storyline deals
with a prince who can't seem to decide whether he wants to share
his fluffy cooked eggs with the hungry people of his kingdom)
to do a "Battleship" joke? "2B"? "No.
It's not 2B."
Or how about
the centerpiece of Big Idea's latest VeggieTales video: the tender
tale of Lyle the kindly Viking. Lyle (played winningly by Junior
Asparagus) doesn't want to be like the rest of the horde, who
roam around the high seas in search of big screen television to
swipe. This diminutive dane would much rather share his few meager
possessions with the rest of the world. Which -- near as I can
figure it -- consists of a paper bag full of handmade pot-holders.
so funny about this idea? Did I mention that "Lyle the Kindly
Viking" is supposed to be Gilbert & Sullivan's long-lost
last opera? So now the vegetables must sing their way through
really confuses poor Larry, who thinks that -- just because he's
performing in an operetta -- he now has to sing everything. This
leads to some embarrassing (but really funny) moments
for the cucumber, particularly when Larry belts out "I have
to go to the bathroom."
Okay, so we're
not exactly dealing with high class stuff here. Is a lot of the
humor featured on the VeggieTales tapes juvenile? Sure. But keep
in mind Big Idea's target audience. Then note the skill that the
production team uses to quickly slide that spiritual homily in
at the end of the program. The credits are already underway before
you realize "Hey, did I just learn that it was important
fans of the VeggieTales videos will notice an obvious improvement
in the art direction of "Lyle the Kindly Viking." Though
the latest installment (To date, there are 15 tapes in the series)
stays true to the look and styling of all the VeggieTales programs
that have go before it, "Lyle" still makes better use
of CGI's ability to manipulate color and lighting. In fact, there's
a shot at the end of the tape's "Kindly Viking" sequence
(where the longboat full of happy, reformed vikings -- who are
no longer the "Terrors of the Sea" but now the "Sharers
of the Sea" -- sail off into a golden sunset) that's downright
obvious improvement in production design, what other biggest innovation
can be found on Big Idea's latest production, "Lyle the Kindly
Viking: A Lesson in Sharing" ? Well, this is the first program
that the Lombard, IL company has put out on video as well as DVD.
The DVD features some great behind-the-scenes stuff. You can watch
interviews with "Lyle" 's director, Tim Hodges or Big
Idea founder Phil Vischer. Or you can compare several storyboards
that the Big Idea team cooked up for "Kindly Viking"
sequences to finished footage from the same film.
to entering the DVD market, Big Idea has other big plans for the
future. Look for the company's first feature length project --
a VeggieTales movie based on the story of Jonah and the whale
-- to hit theaters in 2002. The Big Idea crew (now 200 strong)
is also supposedly trying to decide if Larry & Bob are ready
for prime time. There's been talk for more than a year now of
a VeggieTales holiday special or even a weekly television series.
bad for a bunch of escapees from the produce aisle, eh? Or a computer
animation production company that -- just eight short years ago
-- consisted of three guys working out of Phil Vischer's spare
If you still
don't believe that -- and I'm quoting the VeggieTales theme song
here -- "a squash can make you smile," don't take my
word for it. (After all, what the hell do I know? I'm just a heathen).
Go find yourself a copy of one of Big Idea's VeggieTales or "3-2-1
Penguins" videos. Then slap the thing into your VCR and see
for yourself how funny a Bible story (particularly one that features
a cucumber that thinks he's a super hero) can be.
here to discuss this column in the dFX Forums.
Jim Hill is
an award winning journalist who specializes in writing about the
entertainment industry. Hill's columns appear on Digital
Media FX on the 2nd and 16th of each month. Those subscribed
to the free Digital Media FX newsletter receive 24
hour advanced access to the columns before the general public.
of a log cabin hidden away in the woods of New Hampshire, Jim
is currently at work on an unauthorized history of the Walt Disney
World Resort. In addition, he writes for several online Websites.
He has a beautiful 7 year old daughter and three obnoxious cats.
You can email
Jim Hill at email@example.com.
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