Friday, February 24, 2017

VeggieTales: A Short History

                Quite possibly one of the best Christian children’s video series ever produced, VeggieTales is a computer animated show starring vegetables.  The main characters are straight man Bob the Tomato and silly Larry the Cucumber.  Joining them are the supporting characters: Archibald Asparagus, Junior Asparagus, Dad and Mom Asparagus, Laura Carrot, Mr. Lunt, Jimmy and Jerry Gourd, and more.  These characters live on a kitchen countertop and tell stories, sometimes Biblical, sometimes original or a parody of a popular culture story with a Biblical message.  VeggieTales are silly, entertaining, with great clean humor that children and adult appreciate.  Here is a short history of Big Idea Productions’ most famous video series.
                In 1989, Phil Visher created the production company GRAFx, with the intention of using computer graphics in commercials.  However, he saw the potential of creating a VHS video with vegetables, without arms and legs, which would keep the animation simple and easier to produce.  In early 1993, he founded Big Idea Productions along with Mike Nawrocki and his wife Lisa.  Their first production was called “Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?”  It featured three segments, with a wraparound introduction and conclusion by Bob and Larry.  Many of the features of future videos were established this video.  The first segment was an original story where Junior, after watching a scary show, struggles to fall asleep until Bob and Larry drop in to help Junior.  The middle segment is the very first Silly Songs with Larry, one of the most popular aspects of the VeggieTales videos (in fact, the original idea was to do a different middle segment each time, but fans demanded Silly Songs with Larry after it was not included in the second video, so from the third video on it was a regular feature).   The last segment was the first retelling of a Biblical story, Daniel and the Lion’s Den.  The first three videos (the second and third being called “God Wants Me to Forgive Them!?!” and “Are You My Neighbor?” respectively).  With the fourth video, released in 1995, Bob and Larry introduce one main story, this time “Rack, Shack and Benny” (the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) with the Silly Songs with Larry severing as an Intermission.  Many subsequent videos follow this format, of one main story with a Silly Song intermission. Also, Big Idea started releasing their productions on DVDs when the format took over from VHS.
                In 2002, in addition to producing 13 direct-to-video releases, Big Idea released its first Feature Film, Jonah: A VeggieTales movie.  The movie featured an introductory segment with Junior, Laura, Bob and Dad and their friends heading to a Twippo, concert, but crash their car and are forced to seek shelter in a” seafoo(d)” restaurant.  There, they meet the popular characters The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, who tell the story of Jonah, a Biblical prophet who failed to learn compassion and mercy.  The movie had a budget of $14 million and made $25.6 million at the box office.
                Unfortunately, in 2002 and 2003, Big Idea had financial troubles and was sold to Classic Media.  Phil Visher stepped down as the driving force behind Big Idea and Mike Nawrocki assumed creative control (though Visher still agreed to voice the characters).  If you want to know Phil Visher’s complete account of Big Idea's end as an independent company you can read it in an 11-part blog post here.  However, the good news was that Big Idea’s parent company wanted to make more VeggieTales videos.  In 2004, three VeggieTales videos were released in the same year, up from the one or two in previous years.
In 2008, the supporting characters the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything received their own movie.  In the movie, the do-nothing pirates want to put on a pirate stage show, when they travel back in time to the 17th century and have to be real pirates.  The movie was made for $15 million and grossed $13.2 million at the box office. 
                Big Idea continued to regularly release direct-to-DVD productions up through 2014. On November 26, 2014, Netflix produced 3 direct-to-video productions and premiered VeggieTales in the House, a new animated series starring the characters in a new animation and storytelling style.  As of 2017, 52 episodes have been released over four seasons.  The last regular direct-to-DVD production was released on March 5, 2015, and was called Noah’s Ark.  No Direct to DVD productions have been released in 2016 or have been announced for 2017.  A new Netflix series, called VeggieTales in the City, will premiere on February 24, 2017. 

                While VeggieTales continues in some format on Netflix, the original direct-to-video series has probably met its end.  In all, there were forty-seven original productions and two feature films (there were also many compilation DVDs).  Here’s to the original VeggieTales video series and their incredible characters and warm clean humor.  

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