Friday, August 12, 2011

I Met a Cucumber!

One of the extra-FUN treats of my time in Atlanta was meeting and interviewing Mike Nawrocki, one of the creators of Veggie Tales! My kids LOVED Veggie Tales when they were little! My girl and her friends have even enjoyed a few "marathons" of watching them on sleepovers recently! We still sometimes quote Bob & Larry or sing bits of some of the songs from the old classics! And I've caught a few quotes on my girl's FB status!

It was such a treat to sit down with Mike (the taller one to the right) and learn a little more about this fun company. Brian Roberts, who directs Veggie Tales, was also there and made some comments. For ease of flow, with one exception, his comments are seamlessly combined with Mike's into one conversation.

Can you explain a little of Veggie Tales’ journey – weren’t they bought a few years ago? What is different or the same from when you started with the original DVDs?

We started back in 1993 with Where’s God When I’m Scared?, and through 2002, we were independently owned; we then went bankrupt and were bought at auction by Classic Media out of New York. A few years later, Classic Media was acquired by Entertainment Rights out of London, and then a few years after that, Entertainment Rights was reacquired by the former owners of Classic Media. Throughout all those periods of time, we’ve been our own independent studio and have been able to continue with telling stories with the same Biblical values that we’ve always done.

My girl wants to know why you don’t do Bible stories anymore as opposed to the stories with Biblical values.

We’ve always done the mix – such as in the beginning when we combined the story of Daniel with Where’s God When I’m Scared? Most recently, we’ve incorporated some parables – The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s was the Prodigal Son and Pistachio had the Parable of the Lost Sheep in it. We’re also working in development on the story of Zaccheus and the story of the Five Loaves and Fishes. Part of it is that we’ve done a lot of Bible stories and the challenge is, of the well-known Bible stories, which ones haven’t we told already? And of the ones that are left, how can we tell those with veggies? One that had eluded us for a long time was Noah, just because of the complexity of it in the water and certain story elements. So we did Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah’s Umbrella, which was a combination of the Bible story and a modern story. That was the same thing we did with the story of Samson. We’ve been around 18 years and we’ve done a lot of Bible stories and there are less and less to do of the “big marquee” stories. But certainly, that’s always on our radar. Another thing we have in development is Creation and how do we do that, the Creation and Garden of Eden story.

(And to be honest there have been some years we have missed in the Veggie Tales journey. There’s a segment of time a child’s life when it isn’t “cool” to like Veggie Tales, until you get into high school and then it’s okay again!)

What is your role in Veggie Tales – you write the songs? What voices do you do?

Yes, I write the songs. And I do Larry the Cucumber. And Jean Claude Pea. (He demonstrates.)

How do you consistently make them always sound the same?

Well, it’s funny, because if you go back and watch the early Veggie Tales, Larry’s voice is very different. He’s sort of morphed over the years. His voice is lower and dopier in the first few shows and he’s gotten higher and squeakier and lost his lisp over the years. Through the first 10-15 shows he had a lisp, but for the last 10 years, his voice has been locked in because it became almost like my own voice so when I do Larry, I know what that voice is like. (Throughout this answer he effortlessly switched in and out of Larry’s voice to demonstrate.) It’s the same with Jean Claude Pea. Now there are other characters that I do that I have to start with my warm-up voice and say a few lines, like Oscar the Polish Caterer: “I hope you’re hungry!” He’s a lesser known character so I have to make sure I get him right.

What do you do if you’re sick?!

That’s a great question because there are times – Larry Boy and the Rumor Weed – it’s me with a head cold! With Larry Boy, it’s great because his voice is a little bit gruffer as a super hero. But when we recorded It's a Meaningful Life last year, I went into the booth and I just could not do it. I tried and my voice was just falling apart and getting lower and lower. We had to call off the recording. We thought it would just be a few days and it ended up being 2 ½ to 3 weeks. It took me forever to get over it. With animation, you record your voices first and animate on top of that. You can do a lot of prep work and sometimes even temp voices in and get things ready for the animators and then at the last minute plop the actual voices in for them to animate to.

My girl also asks, “Why did you change the theme song?”

Ah! No one’s ever asked that! After 15 years of hearing the two minute theme song over and over again, we thought, “I like this, but we’ve got to make this shorter!” Part of it was wanting to improve the animation of the characters coming out. We decided we could get to the show quicker if we made it a little peppier and shortened it a bit. We played with the idea of completely revamping it but decided we wanted people to feel like it’s the same song, just a bit shorter and peppier.

Princess and the Pop Star has a great message about being content with who God made you to be and not always looking for the tile –er, grass! –on the other side of the fence. Tell me about naming the star Vanna Banana and if you are concerned the controversy surrounding Hannah Montana might make people less likely to watch it?

For us, it was just a play on more of the archetype of what that type of character is – the pop star type of form. Of course, that is Hannah Montana and you can think of probably 10 or 15 other stars in our culture that kids look up to. Do you want to speak to that, Brian?

Brian comments: We just needed something that evoked the pop star, maybe with a little bit of a wink. If we called her Susie Squash, it wouldn’t have the same ring as calling her Vanna Banana, who makes you say, “Oh, I can see her being a pop star.”

Well, I think it's a really well-done story with a much-needed message for kids of all ages! Thanks so much, Mike and Brian, for taking the time to visit with me!

I have more to share of my interview with Mike, but I'm going to hold on to it for just a few weeks - they have a Christmas DVD coming out that I'm really looking forward to!

After my girl and her friends watched Princess and the Pop Star (and enjoyed it!), I passed my review copy to a friend at church who has four children, -- three daughters and one son. Here are their comments:

  • Daughter T, age 10, loved that they switched lives; she thought it was cool Princess could be a popstar but said it was neat to see Princess learn to be happpy with the family God gave her.
  • Daughter H, age 8, said it was a cool story. "I love Veggie Tales and I liked that the story tells you that you are great just the way you were made."
  • Son J, age 5 - all he had to say was it was such a girl movie!
  • Daughter M, age 3 said she loved the girls and their singing into the microphone. She said the family with all the kiddos were so nice.
  • Mom B said it was great timing to watch it "as we have been talking about being happy with where God placed you and happy for what you have not wanting someone elses stuff. I loved the movie and all things Veggie Tales. So great how they turn important life lessons into a fun, creative movie. Sometimes I think my husband and I have more fun watching them than the kids!"

Take a peek at the trailer:

Princess and the Pop Star will be available in stores tomorrow, August 13. It has some great music, including the song You Never Are, written and sung by Francesca Battistelli.

Big Idea promotional partner Chick-fil-A is offering up to 5 million kids meals through its 1,400 stores nationwide, with five different VeggieTales audio adventure CD premiums and a coupon for three dollars off the purchase of the VeggieTales: Princess and the Pop Star DVD. More information can be found at As a special treat, VeggieTales fans and Chick-fil-A patrons will also have the opportunity to attend VeggieTales “Family Nights” at over 400 participating Chick-fil-A locations for an evening of fun, food and prizes and a chance to meet “Bob the Tomato” and “Larry the Cucumber.”

My note: Check with your local Chick-fil-A. According to the national website, the Veggie Tales Kids Meal prizes begin August 22.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from Big Idea Productions and Hoganson Media Relations. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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sara said...

ok, that was very cool!!! and I learned a lot from the interview! My kids grew up on Veggie tales and we love them ALL!!

Michelle said...

What an interesting interview.
I learned of some new characters (Oscar the Polish Caterer), what happened when Mike had a cold, and why the theme song was changed. Among other bits and pieces.