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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (The): A Veggietales Movie

Darlings, there are no words to adequately describe my initial reaction when I heard that one of the movies I’d be seeing this week was something called The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie. I, of course, had no idea who or what the ‘Veggietales’ were, so I consulted my dear friend Marita, who is an expert in children’s literature as she works slavishly in the wee folks department of Barnes and Noble. Marita informed me that the Veggietales originated as a series of books and then had their own cartoon television show and a series of dvds, all with Christian-themed stories made for the pre-school set.

Oh bliss, I thought, not only will I have to contend with talking crudités, I’ll have to deal with self-righteous talking crudités at that. I immediately thought of two things: What kind of good Christians would teach their children that “Veggie” and Tales” are all one word, and second, what kind of Creationists envision a world of talking and singing fruits and vegetables?

I looked over at the bookcase in my office and there, on a top shelf, in a dark corner, I spotted my own Bible, given to me as a Confirmation gift back during the Reformation. I’m sure there was nothing in there about “Blessed are the zucchini…”,
though there were a few mushrooms growing on the dusty cover of my copy. I couldn’t help but wonder how children bonding with the Veggietales’ characters would ever be able to eat their own peas and carrots when demanded to do so by their parents at dinner time.

I seriously thought about bringing a bag of celery with me to eat during the movie as a sort of anti-Veggietales protest, though I’m not sure why the idea of talking vegetables bothers me so much, but it does. I suppose I find the idea of any food talking and starring in a movie rather disturbing. You could argue that any animal movie might fall into this category. After all, what is Bambi really but a talking slab of venison? There’s something about vegetables though that is downright creepy. Your mom tells you to eat them your whole life and now someone else wants you to listen to them for Christ-like advice.

Okay, so here I sat in the back row at the Essex Cinemas alone, since I couldn’t find a single soul ~adult or child ~ willing to join me for an 85 minute tossed salad of piracy and produce on the big screen. As it turns out, they were the ones who missed out. The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie isn’t exactly Ratatouille, but it was engaging enough to keep my ADHD-impaired attention span focused for the entire tale and it even conjured up a few laugh-out-loud moments from my initially skeptical mind.

The story concerns three slacker “cabin boys”, as the bus staff are called, at a local dinner show club, The Pieces of Ate, where each night actors put on a nautical stage production while the audience dines on seafood and soft drinks. Our “cabin boys” are hardly star employees.
Sedgewick (a squash), for example, is too lazy to go to the pantry to fetch mustard for a customer, while Elliott (a cucumber) is too timid to make the trip because it is dark back there, and George (a grape) just figures there’s no use in going because he’d probably screw up and get the wrong condiment anyway. The two things these guys do have in common besides their lack of work ethic is a shared desire to act in the pirate stage show at the restaurant and a want to impress their families and make them proud.

While this story unfolds and the boys (veggies?) get their opportunity to dress up as pirates to audition for the show, the movie jumps back to the 17th century and a real pirate adventure that is going on there. The evil Robert the Terrible has kidnapped his nephew, Prince Alexander, and sailed away with him on his pirate ship. Robert wanted to also kidnap Alexander’s sister, Princess Eloise, but she and her butler, a snooty stalk of asparagus named Willory, managed to hide out and remain unfound. Once sure the kidnappers have gone, Eloise releases a mechanical orb meant to seek out a heroic rescuer to come to their aid.

You can probably guess, but it takes four-and-a-half centuries for the orb to find its mark. By coincidence or divine intervention, it happens that our motley crew of cabin boys, still in their pirate costumes, end up in the alley behind the supper club just as the orb rolls off a passing garbage truck and before you can say “Yo ho ho, and a bottle of root beer” George, Elliott, and Sedgewick find themselves in the middle of the 17th century and erroneously called into service by the blonde-haired princess to help rescue her brother and vanquish her uncle in order to protect her father’s kingdom.

Okay, so a lot of expected action follows, with the three stooges of the food pyramid managing as much by accident as design to get closer and closer to achieving their mission, but despite the less than innovative writing, the animation is adequate enough to keep one’s attention. My biggest concern as I watched was whether this was going to go over the heads of the target audience. I’m not that savvy as to what four, five and six year-olds are up on these days, but the whole time travel theme seemed a bit complicated to me.

Once the boys hit dry land, however, there is an almost 180 degree turn in the creativity found in the film. The ho-hum pirate shtick on-board the boat is left behind for some real fun on the island where the boys go in search of the Prince. I suspect writer/creator Phil Vischer, used to writing for vegetables, found this a great new opportunity as he was able to branch out here and create a couple of completely new ideas for himself to toy with, and his pleasure shows. Here we have the introduction of a family of gigantic living rock “people” as well as a terrifying race of man-eating (well, squash-eating actually) Cheetos™, by far the funniest, albeit scariest, additions to the story. Even I got a little anxious at these critters, so I can only imagine if someone’s bringing a little nipper to the movie they may leave a load in their diaper when these babies attack.

Despite the warning that the Veggietales were laden with über-Christian ideology, I didn’t think it was all that bad. Oh, towards the end, the King does get a little god-like and even speaks to the fruits and veggies like he is a messiah, but it’s less than a minute of the whole movie, so it’s not like a not-so-subliminal indoctrination into Pentecostalism from beginning to end. He basically just gives our heroes a pep talk and reminds them of their own strengths and goodness, helping to shore up their self-confidence.

My only gripe with the Veggietales’ characters is that they all look too much alike, but then I’m not a kid, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter what I think. I couldn’t tell a cucumber from a gourd from a grape. I think the art department got a deal on green paint and so just about everything is the same basic green. I also thought it was a bit disturbing that these veggies had hair, eyes, and wore clothes, but they lacked arms and legs, which meant that when they were meant to pick up things the items just sort of moved in their direction and when they walked, they hopped like they were all in the midst of three-legged races, their limbs bound together. Hey, if they can wear pearls, let them have shoes. Otherwise, who am I to kvetch?

My eyes didn’t bleed nor did I leave and head straight to a bar for relief. I’m not sure The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie is going make anyone’s Top Ten list, but it is a pleasant enough diversion for the right crowd. It may not have the teens and early twenties folk queuing up in droves, but for those teens and early twenties folk with children, here’s a great distraction for their kids while these parents sit in the dark and contemplate what the hell they are doing having children in their teens and twenties in the first place. Can I get an “Amen?”

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