Our family watches a lot of superhero movies. We recently reorganized the DVDs, setting aside a rack just for superhero movies. And we like Veggie Tales. So when a new Veggie Tales movie came out with the title The League of Incredible Vegetables, well, of course we had to buy it.
Since my boys are far past the age of the target audience, it’s hard to say just how effective the video is in getting its message across. But it’s fun to watch, even for teens and adults, and of course no one is too old to need the lessons taught by Big Idea’s colorful vegetables.
The subject of dealing with fear is one Veggie Tales has addressed before. Their very first video, Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?, is still one of their best, even if the animation isn’t as good as those produced using today’s computers and software.
Both videos teach that God is bigger than the things that make us afraid. The earlier video addressed Junior Asparagus’s fear of monsters in the closet, a fear that is very real for young children even if the monsters are not. The fears cited in this new video seem a bit odd, in comparison.
I suppose some children may be afraid of monkeys, but it doesn’t strike me as all that common. Teenagers may be afraid of a bad hair day, but not the little children who are Veggie Tales’ primary audience. I do remember being afraid of balloons popping, though, and fear of the dark is common.
The fact that each character has different fears is probably a good lesson, one that is not immediately obvious to children. And it’s good for Junior Asparagus to realize that even adults have fears – even adults that wear supersuits. In the beginning he thinks that the League’s strength is in its supersuits, but he learns that supersuits can fail, or simply not provide protection from one’s biggest fear. Only God is the one who really keeps us safe.
I’m not sure I like the way the “fear-dar” showed Junior Asparagus having no fears once he learned to trust God. I know that the video is trying to show that fears no longer have the power to “freeze” us when we trust in God, but that doesn’t mean the fears are gone. I would rather the fear-dar had showed Junior’s fears – but then failed to collect any power from them to freeze anyone.
One thing we noticed is that the video does not shy away from talking about God or the Bible. We wondered, when ownership of Big Idea went to a secular company, whether the faith messages would be downplayed. Ownership recently changed again, this time to DreamWorks. I don’t know how much, if any, influence DreamWorks had on this video (which must have been in production prior to the change in ownership in July), but the faith message seems as clear as ever, and perhaps more so than in some previous videos.
I remember reading how Phil Vischer regretted having spent years teaching moralism, rather than Christianity, in the Veggie Tales videos. Would he see this video as continuing or changing that trend, I wondered. I found an article criticizing this newest video not only for that moralism but also for what the writer sees as self-centered boasting.
I have to admit that I don’t think the theme song created for the League of Incredible Vegetables (and sung by the Newsboys) is all that great. There is only one reference to God in the whole song, and not a very clear one at that. Right after the line “We are the undefeatable” that is seen as boasting in the article linked to above, are the words “Eyes on the Ever Powerful.” To a Christian, that is a clear reference to the God, but I can see how people could easily miss that, or perhaps think it refers to the strength of the superheroes themselves.
No one watching The League of Incredible Vegetables could think Larry, Bob, and company see themselves as having any power apart from God. But the popularity of the Newsboys may well spread the music video of the theme song, apart from the Veggie Tales video with the full message behind it.
It’s unfortunate that there’s no other song to carry the message of the video, that way Where’s God When I’m S-Scared? had “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man.” Not every children’s video needs a song, of course, but Veggie Tales has produced some good ones in the past. I’ve no objection to their capitalizing on the popularity of the Newsboys (I am trying not to be biased by the fact I don’t care for their music myself), but I don’t see this song as contributing much to the overall thrust of the video.
Of course, not every message expressed by Christians has to encompass the full scope of Christian teaching. This blog post does a good job of explaining how a movie can do a good job of teaching truth without containing the whole Gospel message. The responsibility for teaching children rests on their parents, helped by the local church, not on Big Idea or any other producer of books, movies, and other tools that teach. Any tool that teaches truth, even a small part of it, can be used fruitfully, so long as parents do their part to put it in a larger context.
So I see nothing wrong with Big Idea’s lighthearted use of the superhero theme to teach a lesson about dealing with fear. Perhaps next time I feel myself starting to “freeze up” I will remember its lesson myself.
(The DVD goes on the Veggie Tales rack, though, not the superhero movie rack.)