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VeggieTales' pirates deliver fun on the high seas

The latest from the children's franchise is an entertaining spoof in which vegetables find their inner heroes.

January 11, 2008|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Strange thoughts can occur when watching a movie populated entirely by vegetables.

For instance, do Veggie Pirates get scurvy or beriberi?

If there was a VeggieTales version of "The Silence of the Lambs" -- which, arguably, is pretty unlikely -- would Hannibal Lecter be a vegetarian or would the fava beans simply become the main dish with a side of kidney?

Without arms, how do the vegetable actors pick things up so easily? (They don't have legs either, for that matter, but get around with a kind of modified bunny hop.)

To the legion of longtime fans of the VeggieTales video series, 2002 theatrical release "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" or the Saturday morning cartoon, the questions are largely irrelevant. For to properly enjoy the VeggieTales universe, you need to take things on faith. And there's a lot of faith to be had, as these hugely successful products carry Christian-themed messages that go down far more entertainingly than any Sunday school classes I remember.

The latest vehicle to roll out of the Big Idea Productions factory is "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie," a gentle adventure-comedy that sails a heroes' journey so straight and true that Joseph Campbell would smile. Writer Phil Vischer and director Mike Nawrocki -- the brains behind all things VeggieTales and the providers of many of the voices -- cast some recognizable "faces" and have a lot of fun spoofing the pirates' craze of recent years.

The pirates -- who played a key role in "Jonah" -- are actually busboys, or rather cabin boys, at a themed dinner theater featuring a buccaneer motif. Elliot (played by Larry the Cucumber)is afraid of everything (he keeps a list) but longs to appear onstage in the pirate show. Sedgewick (Mr. Lunt, a gourd) is a slacker one paycheck away from having to move back into his parents' basement. George (Pa Grape, a -- duh -- grape) is a milquetoast but is really smart; he just can't act upon his ideas, so great is his lack of confidence. (Bob the Tomato, in case you're wondering, is largely a behind-the-camera presence in "Pirates.")

They are hardly heroic material at this point, and their situation gets even worse when they ill-advisedly audition to be performing cast members at the restaurant. They inadvertently wreck the ship with their ineptitude and are quickly fired from even the cabin boy jobs. However, while sitting in the alley behind the restaurant feeling sorry for themselves, they come across a golden orb straight out of Jules Verne, which calls them for adventure.

Vischer cites "¡Three Amigos!" and "Galaxy Quest" as inspiration, and in that tradition our fake pirates are on their way to being real heroes. The pace of the story is quick, there are catchy, silly songs -- including a delightful parody of the B-52's' "Rock Lobster" -- to keep the littlest Veggie fans happy, and the computer-generated animation is pleasingly colorful and amusing, especially in the rendering of some rock monsters and scalawag Robert the Terrible's hidden fortress.

For those turned off by possible proselytizing, it's pretty mild here until a figure appears near the end and casts a more theological reading on the story. Unlike "Jonah," which was drawn directly from the Bible, "Pirates" relies more on classical and pop culture-driven references to deliver its worthwhile message.


"The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. In general release.

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