More than 20 years after “VeggieTales” burst onto the children’s entertainment scene, Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and their friends from the produce aisle have an all-new series and an all-new home on Netflix. On Nov. 26, Examiner chatted exclusively with “VeggieTales” co-creator Phil Vischer to get the scoop on the new project. The affable Vischer dished on “VeggieTales in the House,” his favorite episodes of all time, and how he identifies with his bulbous alter ego, Bob.
“VeggieTales in the House” is a whole new thing for you guys and the characters. Can you tell me about it?
Vischer: Yeah! If you’ve ever seen a VeggieTales video, you know they all end with Bob and Larry on the kitchen countertop saying ‘hey kids, remember: God made you special and He loves you very much. Good-bye!’ but we never see what happens after that; where they go or where they live.
So ‘VeggieTales in the House’ is basically zooming back to say ‘actually, their whole world is in this kitchen.’ They’ve got vegetable houses and vegetable apartments and they drive veggie cars and they have veggie pets. Pa Grape has a general store; he’s like Mr. Hooper from ‘Sesame Street.’ And so these are little 11-minute stories –there’s two in an episode– where Bob and Larry have adventures in their little vegetable universe. It [came] exclusively to Netflix the day before Thanksgiving.
So can we expect the same faith-based lessons and stories we’ve had from the beginning?
Vischer: Yup! Like with everything we’ve ever done with VeggieTales, each story starts out with a biblical value; some kind of lesson that parents want to pass on to their kids, and then we weave that into the story. So those are there. The same songs, you know, each one has an original song. People love the music from VeggieTales and songs are a great way to make lessons sticky for kids. So they’re the same in those regards, with Bob and Larry and their friends, the same kind of humor, but they’re shorter, they’re quicker, more cartoon-y.
So the 40-minute DVD are more like ‘let’s have a family movie night and sit down and watch a movie together’ and there are more like ‘you’re in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, and if you’ve got the Netflix app on your phone, you can hand them that and they can watch… two little 11-minute adventures to fill the time while actually learning something. It’s a really cool opportunity to meet kids where they are today.
Now I usually don’t like to be negative, but I had someone specifically ask me to ask this question.
I know some folks who don’t particularly care for the new look of the VeggieTales. What’s your response to their criticism?
Vischer: [Laughs] Yeah. The new show’s been conceived by a friend of mine, a guy named Doug TenNapel, and he was actually the creator of one of the first hit video games called Earthworm Jim. He’s created shows for Nickelodeon, and he’s a Christian who’s worked in Hollywood for about 20 years. And so he wanted to freshen up the characters and give them kind of a new look.
Also, because VeggieTales is now owned by Dreamworks, some of the same technical guys at Dreamworks that work on ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ re-built Bob and Larry so they could be animated more expressively. So Bob and Larry can now do facial expressions that they could never do before because that was partly the style of show that Doug wanted to make.
So for people that aren’t sure about the new look, just wait until you see the new shows. If you’ve seen the new shows and you still don’t like it, then you’ve got a valid complaint. But everything changes. Mickey Mouse has changed four or five times in 75 years.
So will future movies be done in this new style or the old style?
Vischer: The future movies are actually being done in the new style so that the animators can have the same kind of tools to animate them with. And we’ll see what people think of them.
So how are you like Bob?
Vischer: [Laughs] I’ve kind of viewed Bob as kind of a frustrated Mr. Rogers in that he wants to be that TV host where everything goes perfectly and he’s always calm and he never gets frazzled by anything. But nothing goes perfectly, and Larry messes it up with his silliness or somebody else… or Bob messes it up. So nothing goes quite right. That’s kind of how I feel. I want to save the children of the world from evil and I want to be Mr. Rogers and make it all look effortless but it’s just so hard that it’s like you’re always on the verge of freaking out. And that’s how I see Bob and kind of how I see me.
I can totally understand that. As a parent I have those feelings all the time.
Vischer: The frustrated Mr. Rogers in you?
Yep! So what’s your favorite VeggieTales movie or episode?
Vischer: I have different favorites for different reasons. ‘Dave and the Giant Pickle’ was the fourth episode, the first one we made where we didn’t all die trying to get it done on time. So I think fondly about that one.
I also am very fond of ‘The Star of Christmas’ and ‘Easter Carol.’ ‘Easter Carol’ because it was the first opportunity we actually had to really tell the story of Jesus’ life in a VeggieTales video because one of our initial rules when we started VeggieTales was ‘we’ll never portray Jesus as a vegetable.’ And in the ‘Easter Carol,’ we told the story through stained glass windows in a church, which would up being really, really impactful. So those are probably my favorite moments.
Okay, cool. [Laughs] I’m telling you, I’ve seen all of those videos multiple times over the past 10 years so I’m very familiar. So you play veggies, and I’ve always wanted to know: do you actually feel comfortable eating them anymore?
Vischer: We’ve had some parents say ‘my kids will eat any vegetable they see in ‘Veggie Tales” and others say they won’t eat any vegetable they see in ‘Veggie Tales.’ And so what I always say back to them is ‘tell your kids: just don’t eat the ones that talk.’ If the vegetable doesn’t talk, either he’s sleeping or you can eat him. Try to wake him up first.
What is your favorite veggie?
Vischer: To eat or to play on TV?
Vischer: To eat, it’s probably broccoli. To play on TV, it’s probably Archibald Asparagus or Mr. Lunt because they represent the very silly parts of me.
So where can my readers go for more information?
Vischer: You can learn more about the new show at veggietales.com.