In the annals (that's two 'N's, kids) of feature-length computer animation history,
there are toys, and ants, and bugs, and extinct reptiles, and extinct mammals,
and monsters, and fairy tale creatures, and boy geniuses, and— raw vitamin-rich
foodstuffs from the produce aisle of your local green grocer?
Yes, Jonah: A Veggietales Movie is the epic story of a monocled British-accented
asparagus who gets swallowed by a whale. But, there's also the frame story,
which involves, among other characters, Bob the Tomato.
At first, the idea of a talking tomato driving a cornucopia's worth of fruits
and vegetables in a VW Bus to see a concert performance by the mono-monikered
singer Twippo didn't seem that odd. But then I noticed that the tomato didn't
have any arms— or legs! Hey, how can he steer that thing without arms? How can
he hit the breaks, or the gas? What in the name of Our Farmer Who Art in Heaven
is going on here?
Frankly, the people who came up with Veggietales are mental. Mental! Twenty
minutes into the movie, as a limbless cucumber with a beard and an eye-patch
puts a nautical telescope up to his bulging peepers, I'm still trying to wrap
my melon around the insanity of it all.
Of course, when Jonah got its big-screen release, there were thousands
upon thousands of kids out there who saw nothing unusual about this at all.
For years, the Christian computer animation studio Big Idea has been cranking
out the home video adventures of, among others, Larry the Cucumber and Pa Grape.
The kids go to Sunday School, have some snacks, sing some hymns, read a few
bible verses, and, later that night, before bedtime, instead of Arthur
or Bob the Builder, it's Veggietales. Religutainment.
But wait! These aren't your Grandma's Bible stories. Okay, well, technically,
they are. Except in the King James Version, nobody gets slapped in the puss
with a wet scaly herring.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You see, Jonah's this prophet, who brings
the people of Israel messages from God. Among the messages are, 'Do not fight,
do not cheat. Wash your hands before you eat.' and 'Don't eat pigs, don't eat
bats. Don't eat beetles, flies or gnats.' Jonah's second message causes a restaurateur
to close his establishment called 'Log O' Pork' in favor of selling bagels.
Jonah's got a cushy job, until God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah. Now, the Ninevites
are a particularly nasty group. They lie. They cheat. But worst of all, they're
fish-slappers! Fish-slappers! They clock people upside the head with the catch
of the day. Eventually, Jonah winds up on a boat with The Pirates Who Don't
Do Anything, who've agreed to, for once, do something, but only because they
need the money to buy more bags of Mr. Twisty's Twisted Cheese Curls. Aside
from the tasty fake-cheese goodness, they hope to find the golden ticket that
will mean that they are the winners of 'Mr. Twisty's Twisted Cheese Curls Sweepstakes.'
Prince of Egypt this is not. But the combo of anachronistic non-sequiter
humor and Golden Rule moral lessons makes Jonah, and his tale, easy to
As a big-screen movie, though, Jonah is pretty small potatoes. The
first incarnation of the Jonah script started out as just another story
in a line of direct-to-video veggietales, and it shows. Take away the impressive-for-a-minor-animation-studio
visuals like a pirate ship and a massive whale, and what you've got is less
than epic. A pretty simple story, a few songs, and a lesson well-learned (in
this case, the lessons on the menu are compassion and mercy).
Even though Jonah isn't a cinematic achievement, it's got plenty of
pluck. It helps that the characters are genuinely cute. Not 'I want to ram a
meat skewer into your rainbow embroidered tummy' Care Bear cute, or disturbing
'This is what happens when curious toddlers get into their parents' secret stash
of LSD' Teletubbies cute. It's amazing what memorable and expressive characters
Big Idea have created from great voicework, common salad ingredients, and eyes
like Grade AA hard-boiled eggs.
And then there are the songs. Rhyming Arizona with Jonah. Brilliant! Days
later, I'm doing my laundry, and find myself singing:
'Jonah was a prophet
But he really never got it.
(Sad but true)
If you've been watching you can spot it.
Musically speaking, make sure you stick around for the credits. In 'In the
Belly of a Whale', the singer, taking on the persona of Jonah, notes archly
that 'it behooves me to be heaved.' And immediately following that is 'The Credits
'There should be a rule that the song under the credits
Remotely pertains to the movie's basic plot.
That rule has not been made
so for now we'll have to say,
'Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.''
Many months ago, I gave Monsters Inc. the same rating I now give Jonah.
That's right, Monsters Inc., the blockbusting PIXAR crowd pleaser and
merchandising factory. 'Why'?, you might ask, put talking vegetables on the
same playing field as Sully and Mike? After two Toy Stories and A
Bug's Life, PIXAR's got their feature-length animation schtick down to a
science. One of the things about science, though: it's predictable. So, even
though Monsters Inc. has more jokes per square centimeter, and even though
PIXAR handily clobbers Big Idea in the graphics department, the talking bug-eyed
produce feels, well, fresher.
In the tradition of recent computer animated releases Shrek and Monsters
Inc., Jonah gets the royal two-disc treatment. Probably not necessary,
but there is some fun stuff in here.
First off: some of the menu screens are little features unto themselves. The
two French grapes in the restaurant and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything sitting
in the booth provide endless nonsensical musings as they wait for you to make
And a complaint: the default setting is full-screen. I know this is a kid's
movie, but that's no excuse. Default should always be wide-screen. Always. I
say this because I watched the whole movie on full-screen, and then felt cheated
when I found out that there was a wide-screen format. That's very nearly as
lame as the DVD for Brotherhood
of the Wolf,which has the English-dubbed version instead of the original
French language track as the audio default. Don't make us work harder to watch
the movie as it was intended to be seen. Grrrrr.
Alright: three commentary tracks. One by the director of animation and the
producer. For some reason, the producer kinda got on my nerves. Maybe it's because
she's just a normal person and not an entertainer. Or maybe it's because no
healthy person should really listen to three commentary tracks about the same
movie in the same day. The in-character commentary with Larry the Cucumber and
Mr. Lunt can drag a little, but it's a notch above a similar in-character commentary
for the Muppets From
Space DVD. If you've only got the time (or patience) for one commentary
track, the one by writers/directors Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki has the best
mix of entertainment and info.
For the basics, watch the 'Making the Movie' featurette. 'The Studio Process'
is less essential. The 'Studio Tour' has some hit-and-miss humor, but leaves
you with the impression that Big Idea (which has a non-moving escalator because
it's housed in an old department store) would be a groovy place to work. The
staff have odd collections, like 'Tie Land' and 'Regrettable Edibles' (on display:
Clamato, Monkey Gland Sauce, and Crocodile Jerky). 'Jonah and the Bible' is
a nice feature, especially for those of you who find yourself watching the movie
with a companion who keeps saying, 'Was that part really in the Bible?' For
the record, the Old Testament makes no overt mentions of fish-slapping.
There's a bonus song: 'The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.' And the full version
of Billy Joe McGuffrey, a song we only hear part of in the movie. Unfortunately,
instead of it being sung by the veggies (which would have been awesome),
it's sung by some generic guitar-strumming Raffi wanna-be with elementary school
kids as backup.
The bloopers reel idea (always strange because, in animation, you have to
do extra work to create your own wacky outtakes) was clearly cribbed from PIXAR,
but is still big fun. Also, make sure to watch at least the first of the 'Extra
There are some DVD-rom games. Most of them are mind-numbingly annoying Flash
stuff, but it's great to get a chance to actually play the Melville-inspired
fictional video game, Moby Blaster. Okay, so it's an obvious clone of Atari's
Breakout, but it's also surprisingly addictive, and it comes with a spiffy 'create
your own levels' feature.
More gripes: 1) The Digital Dailies are much more amusing to the people who
spent their time trying to work the bugs out of their computer generated objects
than it is to the folks at home. That sequence should have been about a third
shorter. 2) The concept art commentaries are booooring. 3) If I get a perfect
score on the Trivia Challenge, I expect to be rewarded!
That last complaint is forgiven though, because, on nearly every menu screen
of disc two, you can find an Easter Egg by pressing either right or left repeatedly
until you highlight a hidden object, like a bowling ball or a root beer bottle.
Then press enter. The best one: the two French grapes using a camcorder in a
movie theater to try to make a bootleg copy of Jonah.
There's more stuff: a featurette on the score of the movie, previews, trailers,
assorted brick-a-brack. Enough to make you go insane, frankly.
The Movie Itself: 6 out of 10
The DVD Features: 9 out of 10