It all started 29 years ago – when a chocolate bar turned into a cucumber.
Phil Vischer sat in a spare bedroom in his home near Chicago, Illinois, creating his first animated character for a children’s television show: a chocolate bar. Complete with its own face, the chocolate bar danced around the screen, looking this way and that.
Vischer’s wife, Lisa, walked by and offered one of the most insightful pieces of advice Vischer had ever heard.
“You know,” she said, “moms are going to be mad if you make their kids fall in love with candy bars.”
Vischer instantly agreed and decided that veggies made better characters than candy. The remastered character would become a cucumber named Larry, and he would soon be joined by Bob the Tomato and numerous other vegetable friends.
Enduring ups and downs
VeggieTales took off from there, teaching kids Bible stories and eventually making it into a third of all American homes with young children. By the late 1990s, Vischer’s company, Big Idea, was soaring, producing films that taught millions across the country they were special and God loved them very much.
However, by 2003, the company had grown too big, too fast. It had too many employees and too much overhead. Bankruptcy was unavoidable, and the future of the God-centered group of veggies was uncertain. (See feature story in AFA Journal, 9/14.)
Now, God has returned Vischer’s good fortune and a new series of VeggieTales episodes has arrived. The first of the new shows, The Best Christmas Gift, was released on October 22. It features Bob and Larry putting on a Christmas play and encountering production problems, inspiring them to look back at the original Christmas story and the fact that God is with us.
“The characters will match the original characters,” Vischer told AFA Journal. “It’s going back to the classic feel.”
Knowing when to teach what
He said the new episodes are Bible-centered, and they focus on Bible stories that introduce characters not previously in VeggieTales. He has been asked about the possibility of addressing cultural issues, e.g., the LGBTQ agenda, in children’s shows.
“It’s not appropriate for young kids,” Vischer said. “Parents should do it. I think a lot of conservative parents would prefer they have the conversation about same sex marriage with their preschoolers before [media screens] do.”
In addition to the new shows, Vischer has recently completed a different project: A study Bible for children titled Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids. This book will guide young readers through Scripture, helping them tackle tough questions, like “What is the Trinity?” and “What is sin?” (See review here.)
“It’s really about biblical literacy,” Vischer explained. “It’s showing kids that the Bible is a cohesive story, and that story explains why the world is the way it is. Once you understand that, you can find your place in that story.”
The new VeggieTales (veggietales.com) episodes are available on Trinity Broadcasting Network, JellyTelly, and at retail stores.
A personal note
I grew up watching VeggieTales. Many of the pivotal Bible stories each kid should learn, I first heard from the veggies. From Esther approaching the king to David fighting Goliath, VeggieTales effectively taught biblical principles in an extremely effective and meaningful way for a young audience.
Each episode always had a fun twist that helped with the teaching aspect without losing sight of the central message: Each child is special in God’s sight, and He loves them very much. I highly recommend that parents of young children give the veggies a chance.
This article originally appeared in the print and online December 2019 editions of The AFA Journal.