Those who grew up in a Christian home are likely to be familiar with VeggieTales. It’s hard to forget the clever banter between Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, not to mention that catchy theme song. Though the first episodes of VeggieTales came out in the early 90s, they still have a strong presence in pop culture. The show was absolutely revolutionary in the world of computer animation, as it was some of the first widely released media to fully utilize the animation format. The stories were simple and enjoyable for parents and children alike, effectively teaching biblical lessons in an entertaining way without succumbing to the common immaturity of children’s animated shows.
However, starting in 2014, the online streaming service Netflix has rebooted the series, adopting updated animation and a new storytelling format, altering its ongoing legacy in an arguably negative way. The new series is called VeggieTales: In the House, and it follows the familiar veggies’ antics as they navigate life in the kitchen. Four seasons are available on Netflix, and each episode consists of two separate ten-minute stories. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this format, but I am more concerned with the framing of the individual episodes.
The original show constructed each episode in the context of a lesson or a Bible passage. A question is presented at the start of the episode, which addresses the audience directly, allowing them to feel as if they took part in the action. By the end the issue would be resolved in a biblical context, cementing the lesson and the Bible verse as the primary takeaway. These new episodes begin with no such lesson. In fact, the first half of each is quite indistinguishable from any other kid’s show on the air, as the veggies merely stumble upon the eventual lesson, making it seem secondary to the goofy story of the episode. This is quite unfortunate as it compromises the intended purpose of the original show. However, In the House does always directly present a Bible verse to supplement the message of the episode.
Additionally, many of the elements that made the original VeggieTales so special compared to other television shows have been lost in the effort to creating product with more mass appeal. In the House uses many of the characters from the original show, but stripped of their distinctive characteristics and roles. The humor is immature, and quite far removed from the intelligent jokes so prevalent in the early episodes. The show is a constant barrage to the senses, as every moment is filled with some loud sound effect or bit of physical humor. The same thing that can be said about most any animated show made for younger audiences today. In the House plays perfectly to the short attention span that so many children have in this age of technology.
Taken on its own, In the House is not necessarily a horrible kids’ show. It is quite average in that sense. However, it is so far removed from the original beloved show that the two have no need to be connected. The only similarities between the two shows are the characters and the underlying lessons taught by each episode. The franchise sold out, so to speak, and this will only get worse, as the original creator of VeggieTales and voice of Bob the Tomato, Phil Vischer, will be leaving the Netflix series going forward. This is a common pattern seen in the rebooted series that Netflix creates. They cheapen beloved characters and stories for some sort of modern mass appeal. Though some may enjoy Netflix’ products such as the new VeggieTales series on their own, the new shows do not hold a candle to the original beloved episodes. They are much too dissimilar in their formats, humor, and motivations—and in my opinion, should not be associated or compared with one another.