Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; King George and the Ducky

Today’s episode begins with Jerry and Jimmy Gourd hijacking the show with the aid of Bob and Larry masks. They’re caught in the act by Bob and Larry, but after the pair begs to be allowed to do a show on selfishness, Bob and Larry decide to give them a shot. It’s a good message, after all, and they’d hate to demonstrate selfishness in the middle of a lesson on selfishness.

They begin a short film that the Gourds made by themselves, entitled The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down With All the Bananas. One of my favorite things about Veggie Tales is how comfortable they are making fun of the whole concept of children’s morality tales. They are themselves a children’s morality tale series, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Jimmy and Jerry’s short film hits all of the classic blunders of this kind of story; bland story, characters bluntly stating that they are acting selfish while narrators also declare, in case we somehow missed it, that they are being selfish, and an extremely contrived punishment to drive the point home. Luckily Bob and Larry burst in, retake the show and start us off on King George and the Ducky.

King George and the Ducky is actually based on a Bible story, albeit one you are probably not familiar with, and if you are, you would probably never expect Veggie Tales to do it. The story is found in Second Samuel, chapter eleven. In it King David goes home from a war and spies from his roof a woman bathing. He brings the woman, Bathsheba, to his home, where they sleep together and he impregnates her. When he finds out she’s pregnant, he calls her husband Uriah home from the war for a vacation, hoping he will sleep with his wife and assume that baby is his. Uriah, however, is in a very noble mood and won’t enjoy himself while there are still people fighting and dying. Since that means no sex, David sends him back to the front and gives orders for him to be abandoned in the thick of the battle, so he will die. This plan works perfectly, and David marries Bathsheba. God sends the prophet Nathan to David, to tell him a story about two men, one rich with massive herds, one poor with only a single ewe whom he loves very much. When the rich man decides to throw a party for some guests, instead of taking meat from his own flock, steals and slaughters the lamb of the poor man. David is outraged and says that the man must be punished, and Nathan explains that no, this was a metaphor, in which David himself plays the role of “rich man.” David repents, and God forgives him, but takes the life of his son by Bathsheba as punishment.

So, how does Veggie Tales make that child appropriate? First they change the vicious blood and death war into a vicious pie war, which the characters still take seriously but the kids can laugh at, and they change Bathsheba and wives into rubber duckies, and they change “having sex” into “taking a bubble bath.” This works much better than it sounds. It’s still recognizably David and Bathsheba. King George spies Jr. Asparagus taking a bath with the rubber ducky on his rooftop. He sends Jr. off to war so he can steal his ducky, and gives the same order to put him into the most dangerous part of the battle, and withdraw support. At the end Pa Grape shows up (as “Melvin, that slightly odd wise man who shows up every so often to tell you things”) with the exact same story that Nathan tells King David. King George even has a cabinet full of duckies, to match King David’s harem.

The ending is slightly altered. Jr. is still alive, but traumatized by the war, constantly hallucinating incoming pies. King George gives him a bath, his old duckie back and a sincere apology, which brings him some healing. This scene could have been done in a way that felt cheap, but it actually works very well. King George is very sensitive and genuinely sorrowful. Jr. recovers, but he comes out of it in a hazy, shaky way that keeps the healing from feeling too cheap. In an adult’s story it would feel too easy, but when you factor in that its viewership includes preschoolers, you can forgive them for not going into all the complex nuances of PTSD recovery.

One of the things I really like about this take on selfishness is that it doesn’t use any sticks and carrots to tell the kids that selfishness is wrong. The impact of the moral relies solely on developing the viewer’s sense of empathy, just as King George learns that what he did was wrong by empathizing with the characters in Nathan Melvin’s story. He changes his ways for no other reason than “I realized I was wrong.”

This episode also has a lot of nice Veggie Tales touches. The songs in this one, in my opinion, are some of Veggie Tales’ best, Bob is terrific as King George’s snarky manservant Louis (in a shocking twist, he’s also the ignored voice of reason), Pa Grape uses a felt board of all things as a visual aid during his song, and so on. In short, I loved this one.

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