The first time we saw vegetables bounce across our TV screen, it’s likely we didn’t even know what CGI animation was and where it would go. All we knew was that the tall, silly cucumber and his responsible tomato friend made us laugh.
The Making of the Veggies
VeggieTales may be fun, but they were born of hard work and deep-seated dreams:
“We wanted to make videos that weren’t just good ‘for Christian videos’, but were good for any videos,” writes Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, in his book “Me, Myself, & Bob.”
But Vischer’s dream, like his veggies, had no feet. Vischer was a 23-year-old Bible-school dropout, working out of his loft apartment in Chicago. With CGI technology in its infancy, he made a living animating logos and bar charts for other video producers. His work barely paid the bills, much less fund his dream of creating quality Christian entertainment.
When Vischer sat down to create his first character in 1990, he met limitations: even the highest quality, cutting-edge animation technology could not animate characters with arms or legs. Which is why Larry first appeared as a candy bar. Having the foresight that mothers were not going to buy animated candy videos for their kids, Vischer’s wife, Lisa, vetoed the character.
So the candy bar became a cucumber. Vischer created a small round figure to complement the tall, thin figure …and Bob and Larry were born.
Veggie Ups and Downs
Though Bob and Larry first appeared in 1990, it wasn’t until the end of 1993 that VeggieTales released its first video, becoming the first completely computer animated direct-to-video release. (For reference, “Toy Story,” the first feature-length CGI-animation, wasn’t released until 1995.)
It took a while for people to try their Veggies, but once they did, they loved them. Growth was slow until 1996, but over the next three years the company’s gross revenues grew from $1.3 million to $44 million. The sudden, burgeoning growth made for financial instability, which, combined with a lawsuit from their distributor, led to the collapse of the company. In 2003, 10 years after the first VeggieTales video was released, the studio filed for bankruptcy and was bought by Classic Media.
But that was not the end of VeggieTales. Classic Media, bought by Dreamworks in 2012, has continued to produce the show. VeggieTales have put out more videos in the past 10 years than they did in their first 10; their 42nd video will be released at the end of the month.
Why Kids … and their Parents … Love Their Veggies
Remember, VeggieTales were born when animations were — at best — tolerable for adults. Sure, the stories were simple and had lessons, but with pet wind-up lobsters and silly songs about missing hairbrushes, they also had a quirky sense of humor that amused older audiences. In fact, Vischer credits college students as being the force that moved Veggie Tales out of obscurity and into the hands of moms.
While the humor makes it go down easier, parents feed their kids Veggie videos because they are good for them — in contrast to what Vischer had grown up watching on MTV:
“This was my calling. To do something about [the immoral messages]. To use my God-given creativity in combination with Hollywood’s technology to make …a difference,” writes Vischer.
The emphasis on biblical values has drawn criticism from both secular and Christian circles.
VeggieTales has been repeatedly asked to remove religious reference from stories and their tagline — “God made you special and he loves you very much”. And Christians have complained about everything from the compromise of biblical messages to the encouragement of rebellion in songs about chocolate bunnies.
So what made Bob and Larry the familiar characters they are today? Sure, there was hard work, there was ingenuity, there was luck. But perhaps more than anything, it was simply an idea whose time had come. Families — both secular and Christian — were ready for quality animation that promoted morality and biblical values.
Especially ones that sang songs about how everybody has a water buffalo.
if you go
Bob and Larry turn 20 this year and they’re celebrating in Pullman — The Veggie Tales LIVE Tour, “Happy Birthday Bob and Larry” will take place this Saturday.
So how does an animated show appear live on a stage? Costumed characters come to life against a backdrop of video and music and color. Like video shows, the dynamic production is all set within the framework a story — one that will inevitably involve participation by those who come to see it.
The professional show lasts a little more than an hour, accommodating the attention spans of their young target audience.
WHAT: VeggieTales LIVE Tour, “Happy Birthday Bob and Larry”
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28
WHERE: Living Faith Fellowship, 1035 S. Grand Ave., Pullman
COST: Advance tickets $15, $12 for a group of 10 or more. Tickets at the door are $20, $17 for a group. Purchase tickets at ticketwest.com or call (800) 325-SEAT, His Story Christian Gift Center in Lewiston or call Living Faith Fellowship at (509) 334-1035.
Schmidt can be contacted at email@example.com or at (208)305-4578.