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'Tis In Season: A Harvest Of New VeggieTales, In Time For Christmas

VeggieTales re-launches on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with new episodes this month, starting with a Christmas special called The Best Christmas Gift.
VeggieTales re-launches on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with new episodes this month, starting with a Christmas special called The Best Christmas Gift.

Hugely popular in the 1990s, the computer-animated Christian series — featuring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber retelling Bible stories — has been rebooted on Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Hugely popular in the 1990s, the computer-animated Christian series — featuring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber retelling Bible stories — has been rebooted on Trinity Broadcasting Network. KUER's Preach podcast has the full story of the return of VeggieTales. Copyright 2019 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Transcript:

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If you were a kid growing up in the '90s or the parent of a '90s kid, then you might remember Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VEGGIETALES THEME SONG")

PHIL VISCHER: (As Bob the Tomato, singing) If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They were the stars of "VeggieTales," a computer-animated Christian cartoon series, and they're returning to TV this week. Lee Hale of member station KUER's "Preach" podcast has the story of how Bob and Larry came to be and why they went away in the first place.

LEE HALE, BYLINE: The creator of "VeggieTales" is Phil Vischer. He's also the voice of Bob the Tomato. And he first met co-creator Mike Nawrocki, aka Larry the Cucumber, at auditions for their Bible college puppet team.

VISCHER: Mike and I discovered we had a very similar sense of humor, and so we really connected.

HALE: After leaving Crown College in Minnesota, they moved to Chicago and started toying around with computer animation. This is the late '80s. Nawrocki says they were at the right place at the right time.

MIKE NAWROCKI: We thought, well, what if we combined what we did with puppets with this new technology?

HALE: Most early computer animation was rigid, making it difficult for human characters to move naturally. So Vischer had an idea.

VISCHER: I need naked, bald, limbless characters.

HALE: And so the "VeggieTales" were born.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEGGIETALES")

VISCHER: (As Bob the Tomato) I'm Bob the Tomato.

NAWROCKI: (As Larry the Cucumber) And I'm Larry the Cucumber.

HALE: Vischer quit his job in video production to pursue this dream of making "VeggieTales." But it was a tough sell to investors. A year in, he was feeling stuck and broke.

VISCHER: We came down to our literal last $10 and discovered that we were out of dog food.

HALE: Vischer handed the $10 to his wife, and she headed to the store.

VISCHER: And I'm sitting at the dining room table just depressed and thinking what a fool I am. I misheard God.

HALE: Then he opened the mail and found an anonymous cashier's check for $400.

VISCHER: It was like God just walked into the door and sat down next to me and said, I did call you to do this, and I am in it with you.

HALE: Within just a few years, "VeggieTales'" popularity was skyrocketing.

VISCHER: We were showing up on the bestselling charts for all of video, not just for Christian video. To me, that was indication that God wanted me to build something huge.

HALE: Like an animated feature film about the story of Jonah. You know that guy from the Bible who wasn't listening to God and ended up getting swallowed by a giant fish?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Big Idea's "Jonah," a "VeggieTales" movie, only in theaters, 2002.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Holy mackerel.

HALE: They sunk millions into the project. By the night of the film's premiere, Vischer realized they'd spent more than they should have.

VISCHER: I was fighting back tears because we'd already realized what trouble we were in and that the next morning, I was going to have to lay off half of the studio.

HALE: To make matters worse, "VeggieTales" got sued by none other than...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE YOU")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I love you. You love me. We're...

HALE: ...Barney the Dinosaur. Well, to be fair, it was Barney's parent company Lyrick. A lawsuit over distribution rights led to them losing ownership of the "VeggieTales" characters, which then passed through a number of different hands - NBC, DreamWorks, Netflix. Those companies often scrubbed out or shied away from religious messages. But the new "VeggieTales" show premieres this Tuesday on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with a Christmas special.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEGGIETALES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) We are wise men from afar. We are following a star.

HALE: And for the first time in a long time, Vischer and Nawrocki, aka Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, are back in the writers room together to tell a new generation of kids...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEGGIETALES")

VISCHER: (As Bob the Tomato) God made you special, and he loves you very much.

HALE: For NPR News, I'm Lee Hale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VEGGIETALES THEME SONG")

VISCHER: (As Bob the Tomato) Broccoli, celery, got to be...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) VeggieTales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.