(note: I’m now a vaguely spiritual neopagan witchy-type. Otherwise, I stand by pretty much everything here)
This is the last of my VeggieTales reviews for the time being. It is the last one I watched before I began to drift away from Christianity; though they have made more episodes, there is so much religious childhood nostalgia for me to unbury. Perhaps when I’ve run out of things from my past, I’ll take a peek at some of the more recent episodes.
Jonah was a big challenge for its producers. Unlike the thirty minute shorts, it was a feature length film, released in big scary secular theaters and everything. It did perform very well; their loyal fans turned out, and critics overall quite liked it as well. And, on rewatch, I found it a great note to end on.
The film takes a story within a story format. We first see Bob the Tomato, Mr. Asparagus and a van full of young veggies driving in the dark. They are all on their way to a concert. Jr. and Laura are sitting together, and Laura is bragging that while everyone else just has regular sit-in-the-audience tickets, she has the super special go-backstage-and-meet-the-singer ticket! Bob is struggling to figure out where they are, while Mr. Asparagus is pretty much just singing and playing guitar. No doubt he thinks “entertaining the kids” is an important job enough, and so he throws himself into it and completely overlooks the subtle hints Bob is dropping about maybe needing a hand with navigating. Also, he keeps hitting Bob in the face with his guitar.
Hijinks ensue, clotheslines and porcupines get involved, until at last
- The van has crashed into a stump
- Not one but two tires are flat
- Bob has a face full of porcupine quills
- Laura loses her ticket.
The only place to crash and make some phone calls is a seafood restaurant. Laura is upset, Jr. is angry at her for taunting them, and Bob is even angrier at Dad Asparagus, who in turn feels guilty. All the chaos is overheard by the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.
The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything debuted in the objectively best Silly Song With Larry ever. Here’s a link, do yourself a favor and play it. Now, later, while you read the rest; doesn’t matter. Just listen to it. No Jesus stuff at all, I promise. Anyway, they consist of Larry, Pa Grape and Mr. Lunt, wearing pirate costumes and not giving a fuck. In this movie they tell us about the one time they actually did something, and learned a valuable lesson about compassion that Bob and Jr should maybe listen to.
The story opens in the port of Joppa, where Pirate Grape, Pirate Lunt and Pirate Larry are working on their fool-proof get rich quick scheme; eat so many Mr. Twisty’s Twisted Cheese Curls that by the law of large numbers they come across a golden ticket and win the sweepstakes. Shockingly, this plan has resulted in them being seriously broke.
We also meet the Ninevites. Nineveh was a city in Assyria, and in the Bible it is described as very generically wicked. Of course, Veggie Tales has to take things one step weirder, so the Ninevites are also notorious fish slappers. As in they take a fish, and slap people. In the face. With the fish. Because reasons.
See? See why I love VeggieTales so much?
We are then introduced to the man himself, Jonah, prophet of the Lord. He shows up to the Jews of Joppa and sings a song about being good and obedient. Conveniently for him, the people he is singing to are already being pretty good and mostly obedientish, so that goes well. We are meeting a guy who is solidly in his comfort zone; taking God’s word to people who already agree with it. He’s respected and powerful for doing nothing all that hard. This all gets shaken up when, later that night, Jonah is told to go preach to Nineveh.
He sings about how there must be some kind of mistake, and how much he hates the idea of talking to the bad guys. The refrain of the song is “no, this cannot be, your messages are meant for me (and my brothers).” I love the awkwardness of that addendum. Because it doesn’t fit the rhyme or meter, it suggests that Jonah actually does mean, not “your messages are meant for my people” but “for me.” His ego is tied up in his role as prophet, and Nineveh isn’t just a conflict for him because he sees them as bad. He doesn’t like seeing them as people worthy of a second chance, because that forces him to acknowledge a narrative where he isn’t the center of the story.
The next morning, Jonah wanders through the streets in a daze, while people ask him about the new message, and he freaks out. He claims there isn’t one for today, but the lie itself panics him, and he soon finds himself booking passage with the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. Their great cheese curl failures have made them so desperate they are actually willing to do something.
The Pirates do their best to keep Jonah preoccupied, but he’s in a pretty deep funk, so soon he goes below deck. There he meets Khalil, a brand new character who is positively made of awesome. He’s a blue caterpillar (erm, half caterpillar half worm, this will come up later) who sells Persian rugs and listens to motivational tapes. He’s perpetually cheerful and trusting, and so a perfect foil to Jonah’s morose superciliousness.
Jonah, being a tasteless bastard, finds Khalil annoying and takes to calling him Carlyle, and its honestly hard to tell how much that is apathy and how much is “I can’t be bothered to learn your actual name.” He soon tunes the caterpillar out, and falls asleep. His sleep is troubled with nightmares about running away from God, and he wakes up to find the ship has been caught up in a terrible storm.
The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything decide that somebody on board has displeased God, and therefore they should figure out who it is. Since God is clearly not the most forthright of beings (I mean, he’s sending natural meterological phenomena to communicate specific disappointment with a specific person) they figure they’ll all play a game of Go Fish, and the loser is clearly the one who caused the storm. This being a Bible story with Bible rules, Jonah loses and confesses to everyone. The Pirates make him walk the plank (with a rubber floaty ducky), and Pirate Grape first prays that God not kill them with this storm, nor hold them responsible for Jonah’s death, because, you know, they totally didn’t start it! I love this for three reasons. First, it’s the only acknowledgement you will ever see in a story like this that God comes across kinda capricious and scary. Second, it’s actually Biblical. I mean, there were lots drawn instead of Go Fish, and no duck floaties, but otherwise it’s exactly how things play out in the Bible. Third, Pirate Larry follows it with “And please keep my ducky safe. Amen.”
Of course, the moment Jonah hits the water, the storm clears, and a whale comes up to swallow him. Ya’ll should know this bit.
Oh, and Khalil gets swallowed too, because wacky hijinks. I really can’t do them justice, so just take a good look at that picture of Jonah with the ducky floatie and the shower cap. And, of course, stay tuned for part two.