Despite the runaway success of VeggieTales, the company that made the video series, Big Idea Productions, went bankrupt in 2003. A dispute with a distributor led to an $11.5 million judgment against the company. Though that lawsuit was reversed in August, Big Idea had to be sold to Classic Media, owners of Lassie, The Lone Ranger, and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
But fans of Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato will be relieved to know that VeggieTales are back. And with VeggieTales blazing the trail, parents now have a whole range of Christian-themed DVD/videos with which to entertain and possibly edify their children.
The newest VeggieTale, the 27th in the series, is "The Lord of the Beans." Super-sized at 52 minutes long, the video is a take-off of The Lord of the Rings movies, with Junior Asparagus as Toto Baggypants, a flobbit on a quest involving a magic bean.
VeggieTales are consistently witty, well-written, and creatively animated. Unlike many explicitly "Christian products," they measure up well against the production values and artistic quality of secular studios.
But dramatizing Bible stories with vegetables can sometimes risk trivializing the Word of God. Reducing the Battle of Jericho to a cucumber and French peas having a slushy fight is funny, yes, but it seems more like a parody than a retelling from the book of Joshua. More irreverent still is the VeggieTale Nativity Set featuring Jesus as a baby carrot.
Episodes that do not presume to play out Bible stories and instead apply biblical concepts to life in a vegetative state ("The Grapes of Wrath," "Madame Blueberry," "The Fib from Outer Space") are more satisfying. And the Tolkien epic is certainly fair game for "The Lord of the Beans."
This tale has to do with knowing what to do with one's gifts. Toto's gift is a magic bean that will generate whatever food, clothing, or small kitchen appliance he might want. In the company of Randalf, Ear-of-Corn, Leg-o-lamb, and a Keebler Elf, he goes on a quest to find out what he should do with it. Barring the way is Scaryman and his Sporks (Orcs as fast-food spoon-fork eating utensil-a danger to vegetables everywhere). Toto learns that the best use of one's gifts is to use them, not for oneself, but for others. Not a bad treatment of the Christian doctrine of vocation.
Another use of computer-generated 3-D animation to entertain and instruct kids is The Roach Approach from the Christian animator Bruce Barry. Instead of vegetables, this series of DVDs features roaches. Antennaed insects with six legs are not as pleasant to look at as veggies, but kids do like the grossness factor. This series, thankfully, keeps the Bible story and the roach story separate. The Grandpa roach-who has to be really, really old-tells about Bible stories he witnessed (being on Noah's ark, scuttling around in Daniel's den of lions). The biblical principle is then applied to a situation the roach family is going through.
Another DVD series in the same market is The Dooley and Pals Show. The covers suggest animation, but these are really live-action episodes with singing and dancing kids and someone in a space alien suit similar to Barney. This comes from the only TV series to be shown on both TBN and PBS. It exists in a "secular version" and a "Christian children's ministry" version. The only difference is that the latter tacks on little "Bible fun facts," almost like commercials, giving Bible references on the theme of the day (making new friends, being nice to your mother). But there is nothing distinctly Christian in the content of the show.
The message of all of these DVDs is essentially moralistic. Yes, children need moral instruction. But would it kill any of these "Christian products" to say something about Christ?