[Screen It]


(2002) (voices of Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki) (G)

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Children's Animated: The tale of Jonah and the whale as played and told by a bunch of talking vegetables.
Bob the Tomato (voice of PHIL VISCHER) and Dad Asparagus (voice of DAN ANDERSON) are transporting various VeggieTales kids, including Junior Asparagus (voice of LISAVISCHER) and Laura Carrot (voice of KRISTIN BLEGEN), to a concert by their favorite artist, Twippo (voice of PHIL VISCHER). Laura's flaunting of holding the only backstage pass, accompanied by an encounter with a protective porcupine, however, results in their van breaking down.

Stopping at a nearby seafood restaurant run by several French peas, the group meets Larry (voice of MIKE NAWROCKI), Lunt (voice of PHIL VISCHER) and Pa (voice of PHIL VISCHER) - a.k.a. The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. Having heard Junior complaining about Laura, they decide to tell a tale of compassion and mercy to him and the others.

We then travel back in time to Joppa where the Hebrew prophet, Jonah (voice of PHIL VISCHER), is well-known for delivering the message of God, on the back of Reginald the camel, to the people of Israel. Yet, when he's told to go to Nineveh - a city where cheating, lying and being slapped with fish are common - he defies God since he dislikes those people.

He then decides to travel as far away as possible to avoid going there, and gets a ride from those same pirates They've yet to go anywhere on their ship, but agree to do so since they have no money and Jonah's willing to pay. Onboard, Jonah meets Khalil (voice of TIM HODGE), a half-worm, half-caterpillar who's a born salesman and excited over being paired with the reluctant and cautious Jonah.

Jonah learns that disobeying God's command isn't a good idea when the ship encounters rough weather and the prophet ends up in the ocean where he's swallowed by a whale. Khalil eventually joins him, but Jonah fears he's going to die in the belly of the beast. A holy intervention, however, eventually sends Jonah on his way. From that point on, he sets out for Nineveh where he must deliver the message.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Unlike most forms of entertainment aimed at adults, the vast majority targeted at those ten and under often consists of characters that are decidedly non-human. While they may contain characteristics common of Homo Sapiens - notably the ability to converse as well as feel and emote emotions - real and imaginary animals and the like have always populated cartoons, films and such.

Probably the last non-human creations you'd expect, however, are talking vegetables. Despite most children's seemingly innate hatred of such plants - at least when it comes to consuming them - an entire franchise has popped up in the form of the VeggieTales straight to video releases.

Due to their enormous and surprising success, they've now made it to the big screen in "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie." A computer-animated retelling of the Old Testament tale of a prophet and a hungry whale, the film follows in the path of the videos regarding telling entertaining stories from a Christian standpoint.

Knowing that but only having seen glimpses of the previous efforts, I was a bit skeptical about this offering. After all, the vast majority of Christian-based films of recent have been awful from an artistic standpoint, far too preachy in their message, or both. Granted I didn't think a film featuring animated vegetables would bring out the old fire and brimstone chorus, but the track record of such films had me a bit concerned.

Thankfully, the filmmakers -- co-writers/directors Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki - temper the message about God, compassion, mercy and second chances with a lively story filled with musical numbers (which contain the most religious content), colorful animation, and a surprising amount of humor that works for kids and adults alike.

There's no denying the film's religious nature and non-Christians may not like or appreciate the content and/or Christian slant on the originally Jewish tale. Yet, it's nice that it hasn't been done in a beat you over the head manner (something that also held true for "The Prince of Egypt").

Those looking for a film that strictly adheres to the Old Testament tale, however, had better be ready to accept a great deal of artistic license. Beyond the Christian angle, there's a talking caterpillar (excuse, me, a half caterpillar, half worm character who's come to accept that mix), a trio of pirates who are known for doing nothing, and the city of Nineveh where the popular pastime is slapping each other with raw fish.

The material isn't irreverent regarding the original tale, but rather taps into a certain Monty Python sort of humorous style. Whether it's that fish slapping, the funny pirates with amusing accents or various French peas who are straight out of Python lore, the material is near constantly amusing. While some of the verbal and visual humor will go over kids' heads, adults will appreciate that they haven't been left out of the loop.

Like various films before it, this one tells its main tale as a flashback to the contemporary one that starts, finishes and occasionally interrupts the main story. Those parts don't really do much for the overall film beyond allowing for a "what did you learn" moral and seeing the "actors" playing characters in both temporal settings.

The film's various musical numbers are catchy - particularly a lively gospel number inside the belly of a whale - the vocal work is solid and the animation looks like a step up from what I've seen of the previous efforts (although it's more akin to "Jimmy Neutron" rather than "Shrek" or "Monsters, Inc" in terms of overall quality and detail).

Despite its obvious agenda, the film moves along at a good clip (clocking in at 80 some minutes) and should entertain adults nearly as much as the kids. "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 14, 2002 / Posted October 18, 2002

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