“Are you watching VeggieTales?” asked my wife, sounding surprised as cartoon vegetables sang in our living room.
“I’m watching the trailer,” I said. “It’s coming back.”
“Did it ever leave?” she replied.
For those wondering — including parents such as my wife and me whose now-grown children were raised on Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and friends — actually it did leave.
Bob (the journalist, not the tomato) has the intriguing, behind-the-scenes story for Religion News Service.
Before I get much deeper into this post, I should point out that I have a history with this story. Back in 2002, while serving as religion editor for The Oklahoman, I interviewed Mike Nawrocki, the squeaky voice of Larry the Cucumber and a co-creator of “VeggieTales" and Big Idea Productions.
I asked hard-hitting questions befitting a serious journalist, as I noted at the time:
For example, my first question: "Can you please sing me a Silly Song?"
"I'm taking requests," Nawrocki joked.
Wonderful! How about "The Water Buffalo Song," "The Hairbrush Song" and "I Love My Lips?"
I also pried into Nawrocki's eating habits. "I'm a big vegetable fan, as long as they're not talking," he told me.
For my children, who were 8, 5 and 2 at the time, that was the high point of my newspaper career.
I haven’t thought much about “VeggieTales” in a while. Then I saw RNS editor-in-chief Bob Smietana’s story.
Spoiler alert: Smietana scored interviews with both Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber!
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) – The story of VeggieTales, the beloved Christian cartoon show, can be summed up in a famed line from one of its creators’ comedy paragons, “Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail”:
“I’m not dead yet!”
The iconic Christian children’s program, which has attracted millions of fans with its mix of Bible lessons, trademark silly songs and, yes, Monty Python-esque humor, is undergoing its latest revival this fall on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
The Christian broadcaster will air 18 new episodes of VeggieTales, beginning with a Christmas special that will debut in late fall.
VeggieTales co-creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki wrote most of the new episodes and will also reprise their roles as the show’s hosts, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber.
This is the next line in the story, and Smietana deserves extra credit for it:
The show’s revival came as a surprise to Vischer, who thought his characters’ salad days were over.
It is interesting that the new network is TBN. Honestly, I haven’t paid attention to TBN in a while. But when I wrote about it for Christianity Today in 2012, one watchdog called it a “spiritual and moral snake pit” because of its approach to fundraising.
The network aside, Smietana does a terrific job of delving into the show’s ups and downs as well as the personal and professional growth of Vischer and Nawrocki.
And yes, there’s some theological depth to the story (as well as, apparently, the “VeggieTales” revival):
Most episodes will be based on Bible stories.
“And once in a while we will break into a silly song,” said Nawrocki.
Vischer believes the new shows will have more theological depth — in part, he said, because he and Nawrocki have grown since they first started the show. When they produced the first VeggieTales episode, “Where Is God When I Am S-Scared,” he and Nawrocki were in their late 20s. Now both are in their 50s; besides being more experienced in writing, their journey through good and bad times has given more depth to their faith.
In the meantime, enjoy some “Silly Songs With Larry.”