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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

'VeggieTales' film is rotten tomato

By Forrest Hartman
Reno Gazette-Journal

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (Rated G, nothing offensive) One and One-Half Stars (Poor-to-Fair)

Cartoon vegetables relate the tale of Jonah and the whale in the first feature-length "VeggieTales" adventure. The movie's heart is in the right place, but nothing else is. Everything from the script to the animated stars feel like direct-to-video offerings. Starring the voices of Mike Nawrocki, Kristin Blegen, Phil Vischer and Tim Hodge. Directed by Mike Nawrocki, FHE Pictures/Artisan, 83 minutes.

In "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," viewers are reminded that everyone deserves a second chance. Because I firmly believe in this Biblical philosophy, I will watch the "VeggieTales" again — but not until the next movie.

"Jonah," you see, is too bad for repeat viewing. In reality, it's too bad for initial viewing, but it would have been impossible to draw that conclusion without actually suffering through it. For those yet to see a VeggieTales production, the concept is simple. Computer-animated vegetables act out morality plays, passing Christian philosophies to young viewers.

In many ways the project is admirable. Family-friendly fare — particularly with a religious base — is tough to find in multiplexes. The problem is, a bad movie is a bad movie even if the message is good.

In "Jonah," the VeggieTales characters — a talking asparagus, tomato, etc. — act out the story of Jonah and the whale. It's impossible to argue against the source material. Regardless of religious leaning, folks can agree that the story is rich. Jonah defies God's command to bring a message of salvation to the city of Nineveh, then winds up spending three nights in the belly of a whale before receiving the Lord's mercy.

It's the execution of this VeggieTales story that's really the letdown, and the problems go all the way back to its animated stars. Clearly, talking vegetables are a device to draw children's attention, winning them over with bright colors and sprightly animation. But it's clear the VeggieTales crew lacks the resources to make a really great feature film. The script, the gags, the characters are all direct-to-video stuff, and that's where this film should have remained.

The problems begin with the vegetables themselves. Although the animation is crisp and professional, none of the veggies has arms or legs. This seriously limits their expressive abilities and draws viewers out of the film, particularly when characters engage in activities like Ping-Pong or playing guitar. We see the paddles move. We hear the guitar. But we don't see any arms.

The only thing more annoying is watching the characters hop everywhere. Well, that and the extreme difficulty in determining which vegetables are which. Most are little more than colorful blobs with facial features. One little girl was orange, so I safely assumed she was a carrot. But try to tell the difference between a cucumber and a pea. Oddly, the background scenery, the whale and a supporting character who does have arms are illustrated beautifully, but this just makes the lackluster stars more frustrating.

Also problematic is "Jonah's" storytelling formula. Viewers are introduced to the tale through flashback. After a group of kids and their fathers survive a car crash on the way to a concert, some pirates decide the Biblical story will do them good.

This introductory nonsense is both poorly done and distracting. I'm only guessing, but it seems the only reason it's there at all is to pad a script incapable of holding a feature-length presentation.

On the upside, "Jonah" does contain a number of spirited musical numbers that are catchy enough to keep the kids humming long after the movie ends.

Had there been more of these, the production might have found salvation. Instead, it's a lot like that good-hearted preacher incapable of writing a sermon. The heart's in the right place but nothing else is.

Rated G, nothing offensive.

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