Nov. 7, 2002 – The next time you're at a cocktail party and an asparagus spear begins telling you Bible stories, don't panic. It could be you're hobnobbing with a celebrity from "Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie."
The movie is a spinoff from the popular Christian children's "Veggie Tales" videos. And, you've got to admit, talking vegetables are a novel way to teach kids about the Bible — assuming you've already gotten them to have positive feelings about vegetables.
In "Jonah," Jonah himself, cleverly disguised as Archibald, an animated asparagus spear, tells the kiddies all about how truly uncomfortable it was in the belly of that awful whale, and how he got there from disobeying God's instructions, and how he learned about mercy and compassion. That's a lot to swallow, so to speak, from an asparagus spear.
The movie also has dancing veggies in a production number that could have come straight out of "Oklahoma," according to one enthusiastic critic who praises the computer-based animation and the tunes.
A half-hour "Jonah" sing-along video of the soundtrack songs came out months before the movie was released, so kids would be up on the "11 toe-tapping, finger-snapping, whale-splashing tunes" before seeing them acted out on the big screen. The cuts include a live "Belly of the Whale" music video featuring the Newsboys in concert, a "Viking Medley" ("We're Vikings," "Look, Olaf!" and "My Share" from Lyle the Kindly Viking) and "Second Chances."
The plot is a story within a story, as the recurring Veggie characters' van runs off the road, sending them to the nearest roadside restaurant to wait for a tow. There, they encounter some pirates who tell them the tale of Jonah and the whale. In it, the "Veggie Tales" hosts, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber (have a little faith here), try to coax a terrified Archibald out of his dressing room to finish his role as Jonah, no small task as Archie has a phobia about fish.
This caper also involves a merchandising-minded caterpillar named Khalil and the three lazy pirates. A politically correct-minded critic at Hollywood.com found a lot of stereotyping here, even complaining that "there is something bizarre about watching limbless vegetables hobbling around." Still, the niche-market movie made it up to No. 9 on the national box office chart last month in its third week in release.
The "Veggie Tales" producers are very upfront about what they're about: "a series that teaches timeless values like honesty, kindness, and forgiveness in a delightfully wacky way." They say that "in a world full of kids' shows that teach your kids to be better toy buyers or kick boxers, 'Veggie Tales' is a show that helps teach your kids to be better kids."
Ironically, in this day and age, even an effort of this genre has its "violent" moments, as the Kids-in-Mind Web site points out in its usual dispassionate way. (It also notes, "Many of the themes of Christian piety and obedience touched upon in this feature may be of concern to members of some Christian denominations, non-Christians and non-believers.")
Still and all, the irrepressible Jonah has had a timeless way of capturing the imagination. Take that old roadside shaving cream commercial:
The whale tossed Jonah down the hatch
but coughed him up because he scratched.
— Burma Shave.
Directed by Phil Vischer (who also owns the production company, produced the film, wrote the script and voices several of the characters) and Mike Nawrocki, "Jonah" is an hour and 25 minutes long and is rated R. No, no, just kidding; it's rated G.
It's playing at Market Square East on St. Thomas.
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