Virtuous veggies ‘leaf’ big impression

Julie Filby

VeggieTales, a popular children’s series delivering faith and fun to viewers’ homes via vegetables, marks its 20th anniversary next month. Since 1993, lovable characters such as Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato have shared Bible lessons and Christian values with families through hundreds of DVDs, CDs, TV programs and feature films.

The Denver Catholic Register recently spoke with co-founder and executive vice president Mike Nawrocki, the voice of Larry the Cucumber, about VeggieTales’ history, mission and future; and the latest DVD “Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas.” But first he addressed the question: Why veggies?

“Most of it just had to do with the fact that necessity was the mother of invention,” Nawrocki said in a phone conversation. “At the time computer animation was so limited, and with our (small) budget, we just needed characters with no limbs, no hair and no clothes.

“Vegetables were a great alternative,” he continued. “Then we could really focus on the facial animation and the body movement.”

VeggieTales was the first-ever computer-generated imagery video series in the consumer market. The first episode was a big hurdle to overcome technologically.

“Of course over the years computer animation has advanced leaps and bounds and we’ve been able to make characters much more complex,” Nawrocki said of the dozen veggies that make up the mainstay cast. “But the characters themselves we’ve kept, I just think they have a charm.”

Nawrocki co-founded VeggieTales and Big Idea Entertainment with college friend, Phil Vischer, voice of Bob the Tomato, when they were working in the video post-production industry in Chicago in the late ’80s, early ’90s.

“We wanted to tell stories with a biblical worldview,” he said. “(To share that) there’s a God who made us, who loves us, who wants a relationship with us—and there’s this new technology to tell these little stories that support that worldview.”

After cobbling together personal funds as well as funds from family and friends, they bought their first computer and released “Where’s God When I’m Scared?” in December 1993. Initial response was limited, but eventually through ads in parenting magazines, placement in Christian bookstores and through word of mouth, the concept caught on.

“Parents take their kids to church, they want them to learn spiritual things, they want them to have a relationship with their Creator,” said the husband and father of two. “But that isn’t represented in most stories kids hear, in the media they take in.”

VeggieTales reaches young children, targeting 3- to 6-year-olds, with entertaining stories, engaging characters, silly songs and biblical messages such as thankfulness, forgiveness, sharing and love of neighbor.

“(We) weave those topics into a story that a kid can remember and live out in their life and ultimately be pointed toward God,” he said. “And I think there is that hunger from parents who say: ‘Yes, that is really what I want for my kids.’”

The latest DVD “Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas” was released Oct. 22. In the film, Larry the Cucumber is a mall Christmas elf who meets a little girl whose only Christmas wish is to help her neighbor whose house has burned down. “Merry Larry” sets off to help the neighbor-in-need and rallies the town to get onboard as well.

“In the end it’s about the true light of Christmas and the central message: Christmas shines most bright and true when you give the love God gave to you,” Nawrocki relayed.

The film guest starsTV personality Si Robertson most well-known for his role on A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” and for speaking openly about his Christian faith.

“Old Uncle Si’s on board as narrator,” he said. “He shows up as the wise old mall custodian.”

Going forward, Nawrocki said, VeggieTales will continue releasing DVDs and next fall will launch a video series on Netflix: “Bob and Larry in the House.”

“We spent the first 10 years on VHS, our next 10 years on DVD and Blu-ray,” he continued. “And the next phase for us is the streaming format.”

He’s excited to continue to tell stories that remind kids that “God made them very special, and he loves them very much.”

“We feel it’s an important thing to do and we take that very seriously.” For more information, visit www.veggietales.com.

 

VeggieTales Christmas DVD

“Merry Larry and the True Meaning of Christmas”

Available: www.veggietales.com, Amazon, Christian bookstores

Price: $14.99

 

 

COMING UP: Synod: Topics from the final document on young people

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After intense days of dialogue and discussion among bishops and invited young people, the Synod on young people, the faith and vocational discernment came to a close in Rome on Oct. 28.

Here we offer a brief summary of the document which was approved a few days before the closing. It contains 167 points and proposals which seek to transmit the Word of God and address the needs of young people throughout the world.

The citations provided are not approved English translations of the document. The document has only been released in Italian.

Sexuality

The document states that the Church works “to communicate the beauty of the Christian vision of corporeality and sexuality.” It asks for more adequate methods to communicate it. “An anthropology of affectivity and sexuality, capable of also giving a fair value to chastity, must be proposed to young people.” To do so, “it is necessary to tend to the formation of pastoral workers, so that they may be credible [witnesses], beginning with the maturity of their own affective and sexual dimensions.”

Accompaniment

Another recommendation asks for better accompaniment to help young people “read their own story” and live out their baptismal call “freely” and “responsibly.” The document also asks for better accompaniment of people with same-sex attraction, reaffirming the “decisive anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman,” and considering it “reductive” to define a person’s identity based on his or her sexual orientation.

Women

The difference between men and women can be a realm “in which many forms of dominion, inclusion and discrimination can emerge,” elements the Church must free itself from, the document says. It says that among the youth, there is a desire for a “greater acknowledgment and valuing” of women in the Church and society. Furthermore, it says that the absence of the feminine voice and outlook “impoverishes” debate and the path of the Church, robbing it of a “beautiful contribution.”

Vocation

The final synodal document calls for a “true and specific vocational culture” and a “constant prayer commitment” for vocations. It affirms that the mission of many consecrated men and women who give of themselves to those in the peripheries of the world “manifests concretely the dedication of an outward Church.”

It highlights that the Church has always had a particular care for vocations to the priestly order, knowing that it is a “constituent element of her identity and necessary for the Christian life.” Moreover, the Synod acknowledges the condition of the single life, which, assumed with a logic of faith and self-gift, can lead to paths through which “the grace of baptism acts and directs toward that holiness we are all called to.”

“The Eucharistic celebration generates the communal life of the Church. It is the place for transmission of the faith and formation for mission,” the document states. Young people have shown “to appreciate and live with intensity authentic celebrations in which the beauty of the signs, the care for preaching and the communal involvement truly speak of God.”

It encourages that young people discover “the value of Eucharistic adoration as an extension of the celebration, in which contemplation and silent prayer can be lived out.”

Migration

The document expresses the Church’s preoccupation regarding those who “escape war, violence, political and religious persecutions, natural disasters … and extreme poverty.” In general, immigrants leave their countries in search of “opportunities for themselves and for their families” and are exposed to violence on their journey. Many leave with an idealized version of Western culture, “at times feeding it with unrealistic expectations that expose them to hard disappointments.”

The synodal fathers highlight the particular vulnerability of “unaccompanied migrant minors” and see that “it is necessary to decisively reject” a xenophobic mentality regarding migration events “frequently promoted and exploited for political ends.”

Featured image by L’Osservatore Romano