The 22nd and 23rd episodes of VeggieTales in the House, now available on Netflix! In “Junior Gets a Pet,” Junior makes friends with a buffalorange, and in “Cool as a Cucumber,” Larry gets a new pair of sunglasses.
“Junior Gets a Pet”
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Much like this review has no introduction, “Junior Gets a Pet” features a truly frenzied opening to get to the main point of the episode. A kid finding and having to hide an endangered or rare animal is not a new trope nor does VeggieTales in the House tread any new ground with it.
A buffalorange (buffalo + orange) has come to the Veggie town, wreaking havoc where’er it goes. Ichabeezer seizes upon the opportunity to capture this rare creature, and Larry gets roped into the idea (as does Bob – literally). Junior wants to search for it too, especially since Larry is searching while dressed and acting like a cowboy. But Mike tells him that it’s “family day,” and they have to go home.
Here’s where the whole episode kinda falls down for me. The theme is supposedly about loving your family, but there’s no indication that Junior doesn’t love or care about his family. For one thing, when we see the Asparagus family together, they’re not playing charades or dining together, they’re . . . cleaning. Sweeping the steps, planting flowers, etc. Looks more like family chore day. So when the buffalorange comes near Junior’s house, you can’t really blame him for being curious and going after it (and it’s pretty cute).
Junior and the newly christened “Robert the Bufflorange” roam around the house, having fun while trying to avoid the attempts of Ichabeezer to capture it. (Larry is decidedly too caught up in being a cowboy to be a threat, and Bob hilariously gets dragged into the act as well.)
When Mike spots Junior out with Robert, he is naturally worried about his son and asks Ichabeezer to help. Robert manages to escape, but Junior gets dragged home, where Mike chastises him for running away. Here again, the lesson is lost too many details and too much going on. Mike is realistically concerned about Junior’s safety but does a terrible job in explaining why. Instead, it’s wrapped up in that Junior should want to spend time with his family, not go gallivanting off with a wild animal. Junior even sings a song about it when he runs away with Robert again. His primary concern is keeping his new animal friend safe, but he can’t seem to be able to explain that to his parents nor can his parents in turn explain why it may not be a good idea in the first place. (Miscommunication tropes, ugh.) So is really this an episode about loving and wanting to spend time with your family? Or is it about obedience? Or trusting that parents know what’s best for their children? Or about wearing a seatbelt when riding a bufflorange across an adorably tiny Veggie town?
In any case, Ichabeezer succeeds in capturing Robert, only to reveal that he’s not some sort of Veggie poacher but actually wants to return the buffalorange (actually a baby) to its family. Mike ends up being fine with Junior being caught up in all of this (even literally getting captured along with Robert), and they all go watch the buffalorange be reunited with its family.
Basically, this was a heck of a convoluted episode, and one with very little merit, no matter how many times Bob says “hornswaggled and hogtied” in a hilariously bad Southern drawl.
“Cool as a Cucumber”
This episode is better but not by much, this time because there’s not enough plot, rather than too much.
It starts off with Junior and Laura wanting to fly a kite – it’s funny how they do outside stuff while inside a house, in the case, using the ceiling fan as wind for the kite. It flies for a bit, then gets stuck on the kitchen table. Larry passes by on his way to buy balloons at Pa’s store, and the kids ask for his help. Pa’s store is about to close, but Larry decides to stop and help out. He rescues their kite and makes it in time to buy his balloons. On the way home, he passes Jimmy and Jerry, who are leaning against a wall, trying to look cool.
Now, when I say “cool,” I’m talking like, 1950s cool: making a big show about being disinterested in anything, flipping a coin (yes, both gourds do this), and otherwise being nonconformists. Which is weird, because Jimmy specifically says they’re doing this to “fit in.” I’ve never understood this kind of concept of being “cool,” no matter how many times it’s used on TV (the “in crowd” always seemed to be the exact outside). And here, Larry isn’t a “nerd” or some other stereotypical outsider, he’s just . . . Larry. A (mostly) normal Veggie who has a lot of friends who care about and play with him. Still, Larry is the kind of person who would fall for that idea. He wants to be a part of everything, and Jimmy accusing him of being uncool hurts him.
Larry wanders around sadly (balloons being forgotten somewhere along the way) and runs into Captain Mike, who tries to give him some sage advice on what being cool really is (“a lot of people think that fitting in means wearing the right clothes or having the right stuff, [but really,] a person should just be kind and considerate first, and then fitting in will follow”). Unfortunately, Larry only hears the first part before taking off, and he encounters Mr Lunt, who gives him the
dorkiest coolest sunglasses to wear.
Feeling totally “cool,” Larry returns to Jimmy and Jerry, who toss their coins away to admire the now Cool Larry. He sings a very short but pretty fun song about being cool. They end up in Pa’s store, talking about cool it is to be cool (Pa: “How many times can you use the word “cool” in one conversation?”) before going their separate ways.
While all of this has been going on, Bob is mixed up in an odd side plot where his socks keep getting stolen by a dust bunny, culminating in him frantically chasing Petunia down the street due to the bunny being (unknowingly) on her head.
It literally has nothing to do with Larry’s story nor the lesson, besides Bob being the first to point out that Larry is now much meaner than he was before. He refuses to help Bob clean up their house (because of the dust bunny’s antics), saying that being helpful is uncool. It’s not entirely clear at first where Larry got that idea – or rather, where Jimmy and Jerry got that idea. In any case, when the three walk around town, a few other Veggies asks for Larry’s assistance since he’s usually willing to help anyone out, but he turns them all down in the name of coolness.
And thus the idea of being cool = fitting in fails, because Larry clearly doesn’t fit in anymore and is actually ostracized from society. This comes to a head when he runs into Junior and Laura again, who now want their ball back from Ichabeezer’s yard. He tries to leave, despite Laura deriding him for not being kind anymore. Jimmy informs the kids that “being kind shows vulnerability, and vulnerability means we could get hurt,” which isn’t cool. Which . . . okay. That’s absolutely true, but that’s a really heavy thing for kids to understand, especially in such a dictionary-definintion-esque manner. I think this is difficult thing for even adults to truly understand (why aren’t we all more kind? why is the world in the condition that it’s in?), and I’m not saying this idea shouldn’t be presented to children (the younger, the better!), but the way it’s shown here doesn’t sound organic. It sounds like a sound byte, a way to get the message in without actually taking the time to dissect and explain it. Especially since this episode started with how ridiculous it is to be “cool” and suddenly became commentary on human nature and the genuineness of being kind.
Due to this fumble, the overall theme actually ends up being more about being yourself, as Larry says when he takes off the sunglasses and retrieves Junior and Laura’s ball. He likes being helpful and being with his friends, and that’s who he’s gonna be, even if it’s uncool. Naturally, Jimmy and Jerry agree, and the episode ends with them all playing catch together. The end.
So . . . what did we learn from these two episodes? Primarily that not enough story is just as bad as too much, and in what is obstinately an edutainment show, the lessons really ought to be more accessible for the audience – not in a patronizing way, of course, but focused and clear and fun.
What about you? How do you help your children learn about loving their family and being themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Images: VeggieTales in the House from Big Idea Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation Television, and Bardel Entertainment