An introduction to and the first episode of VeggieTales in the House, now available on Netflix! In “Puppies & Guppies,” Larry and Laura want to adopt a pet.
Almost a year ago, I wrote this rather ranty blog post about the then-upcoming VeggieTales show for Netflix. Doug Tennappel, the creative mind behind the new series, had tweeted a “sneak peek” picture of the updated characters.
I didn’t take it very well. (It was the eyes!)
To me, it felt like a punch in the childhood, which is a hackneyed phrase I once attributed to whiny fanboys complaining about the latest iteration of TMNT and Transformers. I never really understood that, because it’s cool to see new interpretations of the things you love, and it’s great that more people might know about it! But Bob and Larry and the rest of the Veggies were very precious to me, and I wasn’t at all sure how this new show would treat them, especially since Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki were only minimally involved. Most of my hesitation was due to nostalgia, as it’s been years since I’ve really watched VeggieTales, tapering off after Jonah came out. The other part was wondering how much of a Christian aspect would remain, as I realize Dreamworks and Netflix’s need to market to a universal audience.
I’m glad to say that VeggieTales in the House, though wildly different from the original home videos, does indeed retain the same spirit, as well as the Biblical message. It’s very much a modern show: fast, frenetic, but also funny. I admit that it’s not for everyone, and I doubt that I would’ve been interested in watching it if not for curiosity and being a fan of all the voice actors involved. When the new designs were fully complete and the VeggieTales Facebook page was updated accordingly, there was a great deal of fan backlash, especially from parents. They complained about the new look and the new show, even before it had come out (much like I had done). Even now that the show’s been on Netflix for months, it’s only recently that there’s been hardly any negative comments on their Facebook posts. I’m sure they lost quite a few followers, but the show is actually pretty good, and hopefully, they’ve gained a new, more receptive audience as a result.
The aforementioned blog post I did is one of the most popular posts on this site, and so I felt the need to clear the air about how I feel about VeggieTales in the House now that I’ve actually watched it. My Backyardigans reviews also garner quite a few page views, so I thought, why not combine the two? So this is the beginning of a new review series I’ll be doing! Every week, there will be a new post on a set of episodes, much in the vein of A.V. Club (no, this isn’t a shameless plea for their attention – *hides job applications*).
This week is a little different, as I’m only doing the very first episode, since most of this review is taken up with introductory matters. So all that being said, let’s get reviewing!
Puppies & Guppies
Whew! There’s a lot to take in right off the bat!
First, of course, is the new animation and character designs. The Veggies haven’t lost their original look entirely (like, they don’t suddenly have hands or anything), but they are tweaked in certain ways to fit in with the new slightly off-kilter feel of the show. Larry, for example, isn’t pure green, but has streaks of yellow, much like a real cucumber. The most obvious change is their eyes, which now have colorful irises. It’s admittedly a little off-putting at first, especially just looking at still images, but it works really well in the animation, as VeggieTales in the House has taken on a much more cartoony feel, with cues taken from Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and modern day Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network animated shows. Their pupils can grow huge with emotion, and Laura and Larry bounce around on Bob’s head with excitement, squishing his face quite hilariously.
The physical setting is, well, in a house! Bob and Larry have moved on from the kitchen sink to the living room floor, where an miniature town has been apparently set up purely for the Veggies’ benefit. Bob and Larry’s house looks like the set of a television sitcom, with no fourth wall (heh) to obscure the audience’s view of the interior. (This isn’t pointed out or anything, though Pa Grape’s store and Jimmy and Jerry’s house are both self-contained.) Much like the style in Catscratch and Rocko’s Modern Life, there are hardly any straight lines in the scenery. Shelves are slightly tilted, buildings are stretched, and even the characters are asymmetrical. Again, it’s a very cartoony look, and there’s a energetic slap-stick quality applied throughout, too, which sometimes falls flat, but I’m sure little kids will laugh anyway.
The format of the show has also changed from the original videos, as there’s no “Silly Songs with Larry” or interstitials with Bob and Larry at the sink. It’s much more conventional in that way, and some viewers may miss Bob reading letters from fans or the introductions to the next sketch. I’m sure it heightens the rewatch value and makes it easier for kids to find their favorite episodes, but I do miss those unique features.
There’s still a theme song, though! A fun, bouncy, very catchy one. I’m 100% a fan of the old song (and would always laugh at Larry in the tuba because I was an obstinate little snot), but the new song suits this new, high-energy show very well (and it has a fun reference to the old lyrics, too!). It starts each episode off with a bang, getting viewers excited immediately and then leading straight into the episode. There are critics, to be sure, but I love any song with a good beat.
Four paragraphs in, and we haven’t even discussed the episode itself yet!
“Puppies and Guppies” centers around Larry and – curiously – Laura Carrot. Again, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen any VeggieTales videos and perhaps Laura’s role has long been expanded from simply being Junior’s friend, but I was surprised to see her as one of the main characters for this episode. She also has a new voice in Tress MacNeille, an incredibly famous voice actress most people know from The Simpsons, Futurama, and Animaniacs, and indeed, she is channeling Dot here for Laura.
MacNeille’s Animaniacs co-star, Rob Paulsen, is another newcomer to the VeggieTales cast, playing a new character, Ichabeezer. Ichabeezer is obviously a pastiche of Mr. Nezzer from the original show, and I honestly have no idea why the creative team decided to replace him. Perhaps Nezzer’s voice was too difficult for Phil Vischer to do any longer and even the gifted Paulsen couldn’t properly replicate it, or they simply wanted a more antagonistic character than the mostly affable Mr. Nezzer (he played as a lot of villains before, but you still couldn’t call him “mean”). Ichabeezer sounds like crotchety old Scrooge from any Christmas Carol adaptation, though Paulsen softens it up as needed.
Paulsen and MacNeille, along with Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, are pretty much the only members of the voice cast, so there will be many double- and triple-playing roles in the upcoming episodes, even talking to themselves. Vischer, for example, plays both Bob and Pa Grape (among many others), and MacNeille is Laura and Petunia, a character I actually know nothing about, as she came after I stopped watching VeggieTales, though I’m aware that her new voice is a little different than her original voice actress’s.
Do these newcomers, whose careers are largely in the video game, television, movie worlds, detract from the feel of the show? Not at all, though I admit to being biased as I’m a huge fan of both MacNeille and Paulsen, but they play very well in this softer Christian world (Paulsen actually has quite a history with Biblical cartoons, working on Hanna-Barbera’s Greatest Stories from the Bible in the 1980s), and their voices complement Vischer and Nawrocki’s excellently. The latter also have stepped up their game, having to heighten the energy of their vocal delivery to match the overall frantic vibe of the show. As you will see in future episodes, even Bob can get nearly as excitable as Larry, which is absolutely hilarious.
In “Puppies and Guppies” (yes, I’m finally getting there!), there’s no introduction to the characters or exposition on why there are talking vegetables wandering around someone’s house. It’s kinda taken for granted that if you’re watching this, you’re probably already familiar with VeggieTales. Even if you’re not, however, there’s no wasting time talking to the audience about what’s going on; they just jump right in, which many viewers probably appreciate. Like the old series, there’s a lesson to be learned in each episode, which used to be summed up at the end by Bob, Larry, and QWERTY the computer. All that is gone now, though reading a Bible verse by one of the characters remains.
This episode’s theme is responsibility, a tried-and-true moral with a typically tried-and-true storyline: Larry and Laura want a puppy, but have to prove themselves responsible enough to care for one. VeggieTales in the House isn’t treading new ground or making bold, innovative statements about anything, but simply putting a Veggie twist on classic tropes and tales. That’s probably the biggest criticism to be aimed at the new format, as I’ll certainly miss all the parodies and Biblical retellings. That was the main idea around the original videos: to show kids Bible stories, but with vegetables instead of people (because CG animation is hard!). VeggieTales in the House may return to their roots (pun totally intended) in the future, but this episode and the others are standard children’s cartoon fare – albeit with vegetables.
Ichabeezer is who puts Laura and Larry onto the idea of owning a pet, as he has just adopted a new olive dog named Rooney. The two are tremendously excited about getting their very own puppies, but Bob, ever the sane man, has to remind them that they have little to no experience owning a pet, especially Larry:
(There’s a lot of little jokes like this, setting up the general humor of the show.)
The pair also need money for food and other supplies. Petunia, who works at Pa Grape’s general store, suggests that they get jobs there, too, to save up for what they need. (Why Pa Grape has a store is beyond me, but hey, I guess everyone needs to support themselves!) Pa allows them to work there for a week to earn puppy supplies, with the caveat that they also have to feed his fish every day. It seems simple enough for Larry and Laura, who promptly go home to draw pictures of all the things they’re going to do with their new pets.
“Silly Songs with Larry” may be a thing of the past, but there are still new songs besides the theme, and Laura and Larry sing one as they make their drawings. “PFF” is not nearly as catchy as classic Veggie songs like “His Cheeseburger” or “Keep Walking,” unfortunately, but it works for the scene and doesn’t last too long. Meanwhile, somehow Ichabeezer has fallen into a dumpster while chasing Rooney and is being dragged all across the Veggie town and the living room by an overly excited Rooney. (This is where the new slap-sticky elements really come into play.)
Larry and Laura take on their job at Pa’s store, but they mostly goof off, forgetting to stock the shelves properly and also to feed Pa’s guppies. By the end of the week, Pa has to tell them they earned very little money with their sub-par work, not nearly enough for puppy supplies, and also that they completely failed in demonstrating responsibility (Larry: “I’m a bad guppy daddy.”) Pa isn’t harsh with them, of course, but gently suggests waiting to get a puppy and instead, to take home the guppies as pets as a way to try again. He uses Luke 16:10 as his reasoning:
“So whoever can be trusted with guppies may one day be trusted with puppies,” Pa points out. It’s a good, classic lesson, one worth repeating, especially if your kids have been begging for a pet. (In my opinion, the responsibility order should go: fish > hamster > cat > dog > baby. But that’s just me.)
Laura and Larry are happy with their new pets and show them off to Petunia and Bob. Then Ichabeezer comes crashing in, still being dragged around by Rooney, apparently for the whole past week. As Larry says, “Why doesn’t he just let go of the leash?” Cue everyone laughing, then iris out!
“Puppies and Guppies,” and VeggieTales in the House in general, is not like the old VeggieTales videos. Some people may have a problem with that. They may even hate it. And that’s okay. It is a radical change, given that not only is the entire format of the show different, the characters themselves are different, too. When nostalgia is a factor, it’s hard to deal with change, or even if you’re a newcomer, VeggieTales in the House may simply not suit your tastes. Though I do believe it doesn’t hold a candle to the original videos, it made me laugh and it’s good enough to keep me watching (and reviewing!).
What do you think of the new show? Love it? hate it? somewhere in between? And how do you teach your kids about responsibility? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Header image: VeggieTales in the House from Big Idea Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation Television, and Bardel Entertainment