NFK TV review: VeggieTales in the House
Nathanael Smith | On 03, Apr 2016
Netflix for Kids, VODzilla.co’s Geneva Conventions-defying monthly column, where an adult with no children works his way through the kids’ catalogue on Netflix UK. With Easter just passed, we turn our eye to television, as we check out the Christian animated series VeggieTales in the House.
“If you like to talk to tomatoes…” Mention VeggieTales to Christians of a certain age and there is a strong chance they’ll be able to remember its theme tune. The show told fun little stories using animated vegetables that snuck in Sunday school lessons, often based on a Bible story or verse. Its main characters were Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. What’s more likely is that these church-going kids will remember “Silly Songs with Larry”, the part of a show where Larry came out and sang a silly song. These intermissions, between the two main stories of an episode, were surreal, lesson-free and were absolutely hilarious to kids. Parents would happily let the youngsters watch the show because of its overt Christian messages.
As part of Netflix’s current love for nostalgic reboots of old series – hi, Fuller House – the streaming service bought this classic 90s series and revamped it. Created by Dreamworks Animation and keeping many of the original of the voice cast, VeggieTales in the House brings back all of the characters that fans will know and some of the same, goofy tone. This version is set in a big house that doubles as a city for the grocery-shaped inhabitants; plots include a karaoke contest, saving up money to look after a pet and getting trapped in a supermarket. It’s daft, shrill and features at least one song in every 10-minute story, enough to test the patience of even the most devout parents.
The first immediately noticeable difference is that the animation has become a lot slicker and more stylised – the original show used early, rudimentary CG technology. However, the visuals could hardly be described as good, as the aesthetic is weirdly reminiscent of the 3D version of the computer game Worms. In fact, they use the recovering-from-a-fall sound effect from Worms in every. Single. Episode. The advantage of making your show about vegetables is that the character design is remarkably simple, the movement merely a series of hops and bounces. Yet somehow in spite of how easy this should be and the technological improvements, VeggieTales in the House still looks cheap and rushed. Kids won’t care, but it’s a bit of an eyesore for anyone else who accidentally ends up watching it.
Many of the elements of the show that people originally loved, meanwhile, have been excised from the new version. The theme song has changed and, even worse, there are no Silly Songs with Larry, the reason everyone watched in the first place. Not only that, but the series seems to have lost its heart, just going through the motions of what VeggieTales should look like. Surprisingly, one thing it has kept is the Christian fable-like structure, where every silly bit of hijinks leads to a moral. Often these morals come with a Bible verse, prefaced by a character saying “Remember, Ezekiel 23:20 says…” Even then, it’s still not quite the same. Where once the faith elements were the absolute core of the show, here they occasionally feel like afterthoughts, where the original intention of the Bible verse is lost in a vague message about being nice.
The overarching question that lingers when watching VeggieTales in the House is this: Who is this for? The jokes mostly don’t land – although its silliness will raise a few smiles – and too much of it is different for it to appeal to fans of the original. The bigger problem is that those fans, the ones who will recognise the brand, will now all be in their mid-20s. It was always aimed squarely at children, so people who watched it as kids will hardly keep going back to their old VHS copies of VeggieTales. So perhaps VeggieTales in the House is for a new generation of children, introduced to vegetable-based moralising by their parents who used to sing along to songs such as “God is Bigger Than the Boogieman”. It’s unlikely to become the favourite program of many youngsters, however, as it’s charmless, flat and just not very good.
Still, at least they kept the sweetest tradition from the original show: at the end of every episode, Bob and Larry hop onto the screen and tell the audience, “Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much”.
Seasons 1 to 3 of VeggieTales in the House are available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.