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Veggie Tales are back

Reviving tomatoes, cucumbers and the gospel message

If you like your veggies cute, talkative and Bible-based, then news of VeggieTales’ return will be music to your ears.

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The animated VeggieTales series that entertained millions of kids and parents during the 1990s is returning to screens this December. Over the next three years, 18 new episodes of the Christian-based cartoon will be rolled out.

The new series will kick off with The Best Christmas Gift, soon to be released on DVD and digital, accompanied by an album featuring six new songs from the episode.

Creators of the original series, Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki (who are also the voices of much-loved characters Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, respectively) will again be at the helm of the new episodes. Set to air on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in the US – with NBC Universal as a co-producer – the new series will have the same “Veggies” vibe, Vischer promises. There also will be more New Testament stories and gospel content.

“Let’s tell the big story of the Bible and get kids excited about it again.” – Phil Vischer

“Kids are running to the Avengers, they’re running to Harry Potter, they’re running to Star Wars. They want to be a part of a big story, and we’ve lost the ability to excite them that the gospel is a big story,” Vischer told Christianity Today recently.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my most recent projects: Let’s tell the big story of the Bible and get kids excited about it again.”

He added: “There are too many kids growing up in church, in Christian homes, who just do not know the Bible at all. And because of that, they’re drawn to other stories, even if they’re fictitious stories.”

Another key difference is that the new series will have a variety show format, featuring shorter segments and being set in a “theatre”, like the old-fashioned Muppet Show“which is fun because then we can go backstage with them after the segment,” Vischer said.

He explained more about the new format to Fox News: “It was what I was interested in and what the fans have been asking for … You can take smaller, more obscure Bible stories and introduce them to kids for the first time. It’s fun to dip into smaller stories that they’ve never heard before.”

More than 60 million VeggieTales DVDs have sold since it was first launched 26 years ago (back in 1993), along with millions of books, albums and other merchandise.

The series spent four seasons as a top-rated children’s series on NBC and other channels. Two VeggieTales feature films also have been released: Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (2002) and The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie (2008) – claimed to be among the top-ten most successful faith-based films ever.

But the surprising success of this cartoon about vegetables has not been a straight path. The company set up by Vischer and Nawrocki – Big Idea Productions – went bankrupt in 2003 and was forced to sell VeggieTales to Classic Media, a US-based secular media company.

In an epic 11-part blog, Vischer explains how the collapse eventuated – a combination of a lawsuit against them over distribution rights for VeggieTales videos, along with drastic overspending on the Jonah movie and on marketing.

“I wanted to build the next Disney,” Vischer blogged, “… What I didn’t know was that my new path would take us right smack through ‘No Man’s Land’.”

“It became perfectly clear: NBC didn’t want a religious children’s show. They wanted a ‘values-based’ children’s show.” – Phil Vischer

Vischer goes on to to describe his disappointment when Classic Media signed a deal with NBC to air VeggieTales on TV with most of the Christian content stripped out, including the trademark final line of every episode: “God made you special and he loves you very much.”

“Four days before the first three episodes were due to be delivered to NBC, we got an email from NBC’s ‘standards and practices’ department with a list of lines that needed to be removed from one of those shows – every line that implied God or the Bible might have an impact on how we live our lives today,” Vischer wrote, perhaps in response to criticism over the diminishing Christian message.

He continued: “It became perfectly clear: NBC didn’t want a religious children’s show. They wanted a ‘values-based’ children’s show.”

However, this time around, Vischer is confident his maturity of faith will create an even greater depth of biblical content in this VeggieTales series, compared with the original episodes.

“I wanted to actually explain the whole faith to kids,” he told Christianity Today. “Rather than just saying, ‘This is how the Bible wants you to behave,’ saying, ‘This is the story that the Bible places you inside of, which is the gospel.’

“It’s better for the long-term health of the church and it’s better for kids and their sanity.

“Really, what I’ve been trying to do ever since VeggieTales [began] is create materials that can help parents pass on their faith to their kids and clarify the faith of the parents, as well.

“I really enjoy doing that. I like to bring the Christian faith to life in new ways.”

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