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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack Review: Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie

March 4th, 2011

Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

VeggieTales is a direct-to-DVD franchise that first started in 1993. That's so old it started direct-to-video. Over the years, the franchise produced dozens of releases aimed at Christian families and did so well that in 2002 a feature-length theatrical movie was made. That movie was Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. It was only a minor hit (for many years, it was the lowest grossing digitally animated film, but it did earn back more than it cost to make and advertise so you can call it a success.) Now, nearly a decade later, it is making its debut on Blu-ray. Does the film still work all these years later? Is the animation too archaic to handle? Does the Blu-ray do the film justice?

The Movie

The film starts with Bob the Tomato driving with Asparagus to a concert with three kids. As with any car trip involving kids, tensions are getting heated and after an accident involving a guitar, a lost backstage pass, and an angry porcupine, the VW bus is unable to complete the trip. They head to a nearby seafood restaurant. While they argue about whose fault the accident was, one of the kids, Junior Asparagus, meets the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything (Larry, Mr. Lunt, and Pa Grape). They proceed to tell him the story of Jonah and the Whale to teach him about compassion.

We then flashback to ancient Israel (either these pirates are really old, or they are not 100% honest about their involvement in this story). They are so low on funds that they can't even afford their Twisted Cheese Curls (it turns out not doing anything is a bad career move). While in town, the prophet Jonah shows up to spread the word of God. (It's mostly be kind and don't eat bats.) But that night he prays to God and God wants him to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the enemy of the Israeli people. For the first time ever, Jonah decides to disobey God and instead of going to Nineveh, he hires the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything to take him to Tarshish, which was the farthest place from Nineveh. But it turns out running from God is also a bad career move.

Overall, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie is mostly a success. There are some things that really work, while others miss their mark. For instance, most of the songs don't have the same snap they did on the show. Only the final song over the end credits really lives up to the quality you would get on the show, while Twippo's song was pretty good. (Jonah's introductory song and the gospel song in the whale felt they were trying too hard to be big and this worked against the film.) Secondly, the film was a little preachy at times. I know, it's a Christian movie so being preachy is hardly surprising, and it certainly won't bother the target audience. And to emphasize, it was only overly preachy sporadically.

On the other hand, much of the film is highly entertaining, in keeping with the spirit of the show. The troupe of Pirates Who Don't Do Anything has a general silliness that will amuse kids, while giving their parents a few laughs as well. There are more than a few references to Monty Python and the styles mesh quite nicely. VeggieTales is quite an absurd show from its basic premise to most of its execution. Since the animation was never top shelf, it has actually aged well. It's bright and colorful, but lacks details.

Obviously this is aimed at Christians, but I think it has better crossover appeal than most similar franchises. That said, I liked The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything better. It was sillier and had a more consistently energetic pace.

The Extras

The extras start with three audio commentary tracks, which are found in the setup menu and not the special features menu. Why do studios do this? The first has Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, the writers / directors / voice talent. The second has Ameake Owen and Marc Vulcano, the producer and the director of animation. Both of these tracks have good energy and a lot of information. The final track has Larry the Cucumber and Mr. Lunt, two of the three Pirates. Normally tracks with the characters are strictly for kids, but this one is surprisingly adult. And I don't mean they talk about racy subjects, I mean they talk about subjects kids just wouldn't get. For instance, Mr. Lunt goes into his short stint on Saturday Night Live and how James Belushi wasn't as funny as John. What kid is going to get these jokes? It is fun for adults to listen to.

There are also four behind-the-scenes featurettes starting with an explanation ofthe animation process. Most adults already know how it works, but kids might learn a thing or two. There is a tour of the studio with a lot of the people who work there getting a chance to be in front of the camera. Jonah and the Bible explains how they adapted a bible story into a movie. The final featurette is Khalil's auditions tapes. Basically storyboards of the characters introductions with a few different voices. Next up is a music video for the Pirates song that introduced these characters. There are about six minutes of fake outtakes (characters blowing lines, stunts gone wrong, practical jokes on set). There are also animation progression comparisons for three scenes looking at storyboards, animatics, early animation, and final animation. There are more than 15 minutes of Digital Dailies with audio commentary by Larry the Cucumber, Mr. Lunt, and Khalil, which are just as fun as the audio commentary. Finally there are six minutes of previews for the film from the original releases.

That's quite a lot of extras.

As for the film's technical presentation, it's about as good as one could expect. The animation is bright and colorful, with good black levels, while the level of detail in the film is preserved as much as possible. The audio presents very clear dialogue, while there is better use of the surround sound speakers and bass than I was expecting for a film of this nature.

Perhaps it doesn't show off the format as much as other digitally animated films do, but for $15, it's certainly a good deal.

The Verdict

If you liked Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, or haven't seen it but enjoys the direct-to-video releases, then the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is worth picking up. For $15, it's a great deal, so much so that for many fans of the franchise, it will be worth the upgrade.

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Filed under: Video Review, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie