“When do I have to share? Why do I have to share? Whatever happened to Sonny and Cher?”
This was my first exposure to VeggieTales, other than seeing them in random stores…particularly the Christian bookstore in the local mall that I regard with the same distrust with which I regard all commercialized religion. My wife is more familiar with them, because she teaches second grade at a private Christian school. What are these VeggieTales? In the words of its website, “VeggieTales is a kids video series that teaches timeless values like honesty, kindness, and forgiveness in a delightfully wacky way. Hosted by Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, each video in the series teaches a life lesson — without ever being preachy. These hilarious stories feature top-quality computer animation, infectious songs, and lovable characters.” After watching this one episode, I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment.
In this particular episode, the theme is sharing. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber share their show with Archibald the Asparagus. Apparently, Archie is the classy sort who wants to bring the finer things to kids. The opening segment is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet called “Omelet.” The prince of Denmark doesn’t want to share his eggs, but learns that it is better to share than to be greedy. A musical interlude uses “Funniculi Funicula” to tell a story of a silk hat and a box of chocolates. That leads to the main event, purported to be a lost musical by Gilbert and Sullivan named “Lyle the Kindly Viking.” The musical tells the story of a young squirt Viking who teaches the pillaging Vikings about the joys of sharing.
I’m not a parent (not yet, at least), so I’m probably the last person who should make a judgment on a kids program. However, I’m still quite young at heart, and have been known to watch cartoons from time to time. I love “The Powerpuff Girls,” and have lately taken quite a liking to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” I tried to talk my wife into reviewing it for me, and while she watched it from the living room while I was off in the computer room, I found myself sneaking back into the room to watch it after being amused by the jokes and songs I heard wafting my direction. After she was done, I put it in the computer and proceeded to watch it again.
VeggieTales is reasonably intelligent for a cartoon, with humor that is accessible to kids without being so blitheringly stupid that adults will want to avoid it. The morals are obvious without being preachy. The show is Christian, no doubt about it, with occasional references to God in the program, and a wrap-up at the end that gives a Bible verse to back up the moral of the story. However, these messages are subtle enough that only those who are severely opposed to that viewpoint will find it offensive…and really, what is there to find offensive about sharing? The computer animation isn’t the quality of the work of Pixar, but is considerably better than the CG shows you find on the WB or Fox networks. Everything is smoothly textured, which makes the shading easier, but the water and lighting effects, as well as the models and backgrounds, are first-rate.
Lyle the Kindly Viking is one of only two DVDs of the series (the other is a collection of the trademark “Silly Songs”). The main program is presented in full-frame (the original aspect ratio, I’m sure). I don’t have any information on if this was a digital-to-digital transfer, but it is impeccable. There are no source or digital artifacts, no visible edge enhancement, and colors are spot on. It is a perfect presentation. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround. Other than a couple scenes, it is very forward-centric, but there are no defects in the sound. Extras are limited to a brief five-minute interview with VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer and Lyle director Tim Hodge, a trailer for Jonah (the first big-screen VeggieTales movie, to be released in 2002), the show’s Silly Song “Larry’s High Silk Hat” in non-anamorphic widescreen, and a storyboard to screen comparison of one of the musical numbers.
The content of Lyle the Kindly Viking only comprises about half the available space of the single-layer DVD. For a DVD release, it would have been nice to see more special features or perhaps two episodes of the series, but for its low price point ($14.99US retail), that’s a small complaint. I’m a little more annoyed that every time you watch the main program, you are obliged to watch the trailer for Jonah and an FBI warning.
Lyle the Kindly Viking would make a great purchase for parents looking for entertaining programming for their kids that also has a positive moral message. You might even find yourself watching it too…