Eighteen years after the first VeggieTales video released, talking tomatoes and squash are still making audiences smile. Showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, there are plenty of new adventures in store for Bob, Larry, Junior and the rest of the Veggie crew.
In a world where a tweet is practically obsolete after only a few minutes in cyberspace, it’s certainly no small miracle when a motley crew of fictional characters not only grab the attention of the fickle masses—but hold it—for nearly two decades.
Even stranger is when those witty protagonists are talking vegetables who deliver laughs and biblical lessons in a fun, non-preachy format.
But that’s exactly what VeggieTales has done for audiences of all ages since 1993, something that still surprises co-founder Mike Nawrocki, who describes the series’ longevity as nothing short of humbling.
“Maybe it’s because vegetables were never really cool in the first place,” Mike says with a laugh. “But you know, we [he and fellow co-founder Phil Vischer] had no idea that it would take off like it did, let alone have a long run.”
In fact, Mike still remembers being excited about finishing a single, 30-minute video.
“When the first box art came in, I remember feeling such a sense of accomplishment, even if nothing more happened with it,” he shares. “It was such a monumental thing for us at the time. So when we had an opportunity to do a second show, then a third and just seeing it take off, well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to see where God has taken us throughout the years. We’ve had lots of ups and downs, but it’s been such an amazing journey.”
The Secrets of Success
From the very first episode, it’s been Mike and Phil’s goal to create characters that people care about who star in stories that are really worth telling.
“We wanted there to be a mix of earnestness and silliness while telling a story that parents really appreciate with biblical values they want to pass on to their kids,” Mike shares. “So from the very beginning, we felt like there was a strong message behind what we wanted to do with our stories. And we felt like there was a real need for stories like that.”
And given how kids tend to like to watch a show they love, over and over and over again, Mike says there’s no greater compliment than when they’ve also earned rave reviews from parents.
“We never wanted to make something where parents said ‘Oh, this is a great lesson about thankfulness, but I have to put it on and run out of the room once it starts.’” Mike shares. “When parents can sit and laugh right alongside their kids, that’s the best feeling.”
When it comes to storytelling, Mike is the first to admit that it’s not always easy. Distinguishing the really great ideas from the ones that might sound good for five to ten minutes is an art that Mike and Phil are still perfecting.
“Most of our effort in making an episode is coming up with that script and incorporating the scenes where we want to teach. Then it’s a matter of working them into the story and making sure that theme is being supported and the viewer is staying interested in the characters along the way,” Mike says. “With Veggie Tales, we’ve often crafted them like mini movies. You see a classical three-act structure where you have the hero in the ordinary world with some sort of problem or dilemma. Eventually, he or she is transported into a different world where he/she comes up against the problem and by the end of the running time, he/she is able to solve it and go back to the regular world.”
In that storytelling process, however, it’s always been important for Mike and Phil not to clobber viewers over the head with the message.
“I think that’s the challenge in telling a really good story,” Mike shares. “Things can feel preachy when you’re just saying them rather doing them. I think when you’re able to demonstrate what thankfulness is through the life of a character in the story, you’re going to feel that, you’re going to understand that, you’re going to get it. And then you don’t really have to keep saying it.”
What’s Next for the Veggies
Continuing their prolific streak of offering new Veggie adventures for the masses, there are several new projects in the queue. In the same vein at last year’s Sweetpea Beauty, a story targeting girls who love Veggies, the upcoming The Princess and the Pop Star is a story of how God made everyone unique—a message that shines particularly bright in a culture that’s prone to conformity.
“We’ve based it very loosely on Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, so that’s where the title comes from,” Mike shares. “Sometimes we think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. So our two heroes look very much alike, one is Princess Poppyseed, a girl who lives on a farm, has a very large family and answers to her nickname, Princess. She’s a big fan of Hannah Banana, who is a pop star. So we basically follow the very different lives of these two characters.”
In addition to The Princess and the Pop Star, there’s also a new Veggie Christmas project that’s in production. A modern take on The Little Drummer Boy, Junior Asparagus and Grandpa Grape are the main characters in a story that eventually goes back to the birth of Christ.
“We’re pretty faithful to the original story of the little drummer boy. We’re using the original song, and we’ve done a couple of new songs to go along with it,” Mike says. “We’re super excited about it. Junior Asparagus plays Aaron, and we’ve got a sheep and a donkey and a camel just like the original little drummer boy.”
If that wasn’t already enough to keep the VeggieTales crew up to their ears in deadlines, a new batch of silly songs have recently released with the VeggieTales Live!: Sing Yourself Silly video. Plus, the VeggieTales website, VeggieTales.com, has been given a complete makeover.
“Our old website, Bigidea.com was more informational for parents, and then we had Bigideafun.com that had more games,” Mike says. “But we really wanted to make a much more child-friendly destination—a place where a child and parent could log on and spend some time having fun. So we’ve got a lot of games and fun activities and just stuff to really engage and connect with kids.”
With all those projects in the works, and many more to come, it’s safe to say that Mike is happy that VeggieTales is continuing to flourish, even if the idea of talking vegetables wouldn’t have naturally occurred to just anyone.
“Yeah, that initial pitch was very Field of Dreams—if you build it, they will come,” Mike says. “But even through all the ups and downs, I’m so glad we did because it’s been so much fun and thoroughly rewarding in the process.”