My family’s first encounter with the VeggieTales franchise came waaaaay back in 1996, when my kids were young, Phil Vischer’s veggies were still garden fresh and the technology that brought them to life was still in its infancy, too. “The Toy That Saved Christmas” was the very first episode we ever watched, and it was something of a revelation in my little household: Here was something good and funny and Christian—three words that, in the world of Christian entertainment, had rarely been strung together before. I knew I was watching something special when Bob the Tomato, stuck head (?) first in a snowbank, complained he just wanted to play Mousetrap.
“You roll your dice, you move your mice,” he whines. “Nobody gets hurt.”
Vischer lost creative control of his productive produce in 2004, and the VeggieTales crew have had some ups and downs since then, with iterations sometimes siphoning off both the “funny” and “Christian” part of the franchise.
But (as I talked to Vischer about on this very blog a few months ago), VeggieTales is back in earnest, with Vischer, Mike “Larryboy” Nawrocki and music producer Kurt Heinecke all back in pocket, and 18 new episodes slated to be aired on TBN, with a select few landing on DVD. And the first is, appropriately enough, another Christmas special.
The special is called “The Best Christmas Gift,” and it showcases the Veggies in their new format, with Bob the Tomato as the harried producer of a Muppets Show-like variety stage production. At a loss for what sort of show to produce for Christmas, Bob and his veggie cohorts (along with one blueberry) turn to the mailbag for inspiration. (Very retro.) They read a letter from a child named Arthur, whose father just lost his job. “How can I be happy about Christmas when things aren’t going very well?” Arthur asks.
It’s a great opportunity for the veggies to put on a wacky Nativity play and mull the very first Christmas—which, they note, was not exactly set in the happiest of times, either. The veggies don’t launch into all the socio-political ramifications of the age, of course, but they do tell us that life was quite hard back then. Jesus came into that world to be “here in the tough times,” and also as a promise that eventually, there’ll be an “end to the tough times.”
“A messy world is exactly why we should be excited about Christmas,” Bob reminds us.
It’s a great message told with VeggieTales’ characteristic wit and silliness. Peas serve as angels. Madame Blueberry plays a member of the Magi from the east, though she prefers to be called a “wise person.” Fried caterpillars and a dish called Lutefisk make an appearance, much to the consternation of a couple of gourds.
It reminded me why I, and plenty of other families, were drawn to VeggieTales in the first place. Watching the special was like having lunch with an old friend, and the conversation picks up right where you left it more than 20 years ago.
And through a bevy of “blast from the past” extras—scenes from Christmas specials past, some favorite silly songs, etc.—the DVD also reminds us of what those veggies looked like all those years ago: Still fun, but much more pixelated. Weird how the tomatoes and cucumbers I keep in my fridge last for maybe a week. These just seem to get better looking with age.
And if the Veggies don’t feel exactly fresh anymore, that might not be a bad thing. For families, classic VeggieTales episodes were reliably fun, comforting and theologically grounded entertainment. You don’t want to mess around too much with something that works—a lesson that, perhaps, some of the franchise’s other caretakers should’ve heeded a bit more.
This new iteration of VeggieTales works. And for something that’s worked so well for so long, that’s high praise. You can buy the DVD at plenty of online locales, including VeggieTales’ own site. The episode will also air on TBN later this month.
Focus on the Family’s own Clubhouse Jr. created a very fun discussion guide on VeggieTales’ new Christmas episode, by the way. You can find it here.