Monday, October 22, 2012

Top 10 VeggieTales Episodes

Howdy Howdy, folks!  You know, watching The League of Incredible Vegetables got me thinking about how much I used to watch VeggieTales.  Though I'm not as much of a fan as I used to be, it still holds a special place in my heart.  So I'm going to count down my top 10 favorite VeggieTales episodes!  You'll probably note a bias toward episodes that were released pre-2003 or so.  I've seen lots of more recent episodes and few do show up here, but I tend to favor the ones I grew up with.  Also, so this one doesn't become as crazy long as my past articles, I'm just going to describe each episode with a favorite quote of mine.

It's for the kids.

(And hopefully you didn't read my League review already because I already spoiled my #1 pick in it.  Oh well.  On with the list!)

10. Abe and the Amazing Promise

"What better way to attract a Boo-Boo than with a Boo-Bette!"

9. The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's

"Plus there's no decent food around here!"
"But these woods are full of rabbits and squirrels."
"Yeah, but they won't let me eat them.  Children's film..."

8. An Easter Carol

"A lesson learned is soon returned.  A lesson lived is wisdom gived."
"What? I'm dead!  Cut me some slack!"

7. The Wonderful World of Autotainment

"Where are we?"
"The future!"
"Wow.  The future sure is white!"
"Yep.  The future's been white since the 70s."

6. The Toy That Saved Christmas

"Billy has more toys than you."

5. Josh and the Big Wall

"Well...have fun!"

4. Dave and the Giant Pickle

"The Philistines are attacking!"
"Bob, what are the Philippines?"
"The Philippines are a group of islands off the coast of southeast Asia.  But that's not important right now..."

3. King George and the Ducky

"Did you just say 'wronger?'"
"What?  I don't know.  Perhaps."
"It should be 'more wrong' not 'more wronger.'"
"It had to rhyme!  Don't question the king's grammar!  Now go and get that duck!

2. Madame Blueberry


1. LarryBoy and the Rumor Weed

"Alfred, I'm alive!  I'm...flying under the ground!"
"Well, actually you're boring."
"Gee, Alfred, I know I'm not the wittiest of cucumbers but..."
"No no, not that kind of boring.  It's like drilling.  It's a boring machine."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

VeggieTales Review: "The League of Incredible Vegetables"

On this week's episode of Riders of Berk, Hiccup uses his super suction ears to save the city while Toothless...

Oh, wait this actually isn't a Dragons review for once?  Holy mackerel!

Yes indeed, folks!  Tonight I'm taking a look at the latest VeggieTales release, The League of Incredible Vegetables, the fourth episode featuring Larry the Cucumber's superhero alter-ego, LarryBoy.

The city of Bumblyburg is in danger once again!  The diabolical Dr. Flurry and his trio of cute little penguin minions are using a device known as the "Fear-Dar" to quite literally freeze Bumblyburg with fear.  Alfred, LarryBoy's brilliant butler, determines that this problem is too much for LarryBoy to handle alone so he calls in the League of Incredible Vegetables, an Avengers-esque team of heroes to assist him.  In addition, the League begins training Jr. Asparagus to be the newest superhero in their team.  But when the League finds themselves in trouble, can Jr. learn how to overcome his fears and look to God for courage?

(Just skip to the picture of Bob if you want to hear about the actual show itself...)

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I feel I should mention that LarryBoy and the Rumor Weed, the second LarryBoy adventure, is my personal favorite VeggieTales episode of all time.  It was funny, exciting, and genuinely cinematic.  However, it was made at a different time in the history of Big Idea, back when Phil Vischer was attempting to push the studio toward creating full length features and really cranking up the production values to new heights.  Like The Fib From Outer Space before it, Rumor Weed also featured a much darker and intense tone than most other VeggieTales episodes.  I was already a bit beyond the target audience for VeggieTales when Rumor Weed was released, so the slightly more "grown-up" style of it was great for me.  The music was intense, the pacing was fast, and the villain was actually slightly intimidating.  That said, it scared the bejeebers out of a lot of little kids.  That Rumor Weed was a pretty creepy looking thing!

Times are a little different now.  Big Idea is a much smaller company than they used to be, and the shows tend be a little smaller in scale, and more overtly kid-oriented than back in ye olden times.  So it comes at no surprise that when Big Idea decided to revisit LarryBoy in 2006 with LarryBoy and the Bad Apple, the tone would be lightened up a great deal.  It's hard to teach nice lessons to kids when they are too scared to watch the show.  Bad Apple was certainly enjoyable, but it didn't come close to the level of excitement that Rumor Weed brought to the table.  And, as expected, The League of Incredible Vegetables continues that trend.  That said, even though The League of Incredible Vegetables is no doubt the most lighthearted of the four LarryBoy adventures, I actually found it to be a better follow-up to the original two episodes than Bad Apple was for several reasons.

First off, a great deal of the "classic" LarryBoy conventions discarded in Bad Apple were revived in this latest installment.  Most significantly?  LarryBoy is once again a rather incompetent hero and not the true focus of the story, with Alfred being the the real brains behind the operation and Jr. Asparagus actually proving to be the main protagonist in the end, just like the original two shows.  Plus, after a detour into Spider-Man territory with Bad Apple, the Batman spoofs that LarryBoy is known for are back in full force, even if the show as a whole obviously takes influence from The Avengers.  The city of Bumblyburg also looks distinctly more reminiscent of the first two episodes as well, though the water tower is still noticeably absent for some reason.  The Larrymobile still doesn't look as cool as the Rumor Weed version, but League more than makes up for it with the super-cool Larry-Copter.

So yeah, for all you LarryBoy fanboys out there, you'll be pleased to know that League actually does a surprisingly good job of recapturing the feel of the first two shows that was strangely absent in Bad Apple.  As a huge fan of Rumor Weed, it is impossible for me to watch League and not still be a bit disappointed that the film doesn't go all out and deliver the same kind of cinematic fun.  But I knew it wouldn't before watching the episode, and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable League was in its own right.  It seemed a lot more like a classic LarryBoy adventure than I expected it to.


Okay then.  First, let's talk about the League itself.  Though it does mean that LarryBoy himself is not very prominent in this show, I did enjoy seeing other VeggieTales characters as superheroes.  Bob in particular is highly enjoyable as Thingamabob.  If you really want to get picky and look at the plot as a whole the argument could be made that the League is actually kind of pointless.  Indeed, the story could easily play out almost unchanged with just LarryBoy alone.  The League ultimately does not do much more than get captured.  But the ensemble cast leads to some great moments and it does make the stakes feel higher than they really are.  One could argue that this particular crisis is no bigger than space alien monsters, giant rapidly-growing weeds, or a sneaky temptress apple.  (Okay, maybe that last one.)  But it's still fun to see other Veggie characters getting into the act.

The villain is sort of a mixed bag.  Dr. Flurry is quite entertaining to watch.  He's very goofy and it's hard not to enjoy how slightly scatterbrained his plotting and personality are.  Plus it is SO great to see the penguins from The Toy That Saved Christmas make a return after so long.  They are just as cute and enduring now as they were back in 1996.  Using them as Flurry's minions was an inspired choice and goes a long way toward giving League more of a "classic" VeggieTales feel.

So how about the story and the lesson?  It's pretty solid for the most part.  This is the second time VeggieTales has tackled handling fear, the first being the very first episode Where's God When I'm S-Scared, released way back in 1993.  It definitely makes sense to revisit the theme of looking to God for courage after so many years, and references to the story of David and Goliath are aptly integrated into the story.  It's a good theme to see revisited and the world of LarryBoy is a perfect place to do so.

I must admit, however, that it seems a bit ironic that this is the silliest and most lighthearted LarryBoy episode to date.  For reasons I mentioned above, I understand why League wouldn't be as dark or intense as Rumor Weed or even Bad Apple.  However, it seems a bit odd to do a show about fear when the villain isn't really even the least bit intimidating, especially compared to past LarryBoy villains.  The "greatest fears" of the League members also fall a bit flat, being more comical than actually scary.  (LarryBoy's greatest fear is balloons popping?  Really?)

Fortunately, Jr.'s character arc ensures that the lesson is still clear and well integrated into the story.  Alfred, playing the role of Jr.'s mentor of sorts, is especially entertaining in this episode, even getting to display a fair bit of bravery of his own.  (And make a so-awful-it's-funny "Angry Birds" joke.)

One last thing worth mentioning is that, for the first time, this LarryBoy episode features a silly song.  The song, called "Supper Hero," features Jimmy Gourd as a bumbling "hero" who eats everyone's dinner for them whether they want him to or not.  It's short, not particularly memorable, and not especially funny.  It doesn't really detract from the show as a whole, but I don't think its inclusion was necessary.

Ultimately, The League of Incredible Vegetables proves to be a highly enjoyable LarryBoy adventure.  The adventure is much goofier than past LarryBoy episodes and the plot has a few holes, but the overall lesson is still well presented and the story works for the most part.  It's great to see some other characters get superhero alter-egos and it's also fantastic to see the classic penguins make a return at last.  It doesn't top Rumor Weed as my favorite, but The League of Incredible Vegetables is still a fine addition to the LarryBoy series.  And the theme song (courtesy of the Newsboys) is quite catchy, to boot!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dragons Review: "Dragon Flower"

Trader Johan has come to Berk and brought with him all sorts of exotic goodies for the vikings to purchase.  Soon after his visit, Toothless begins acting very strangely.  It seems as though he's come down with a strange dragon disease and before long all the dragons seem to be feeling under the weather.  They appear to be having a strange allergic reaction to something on the island...

Oh, and Trader Johan traded something suspicious to Mildew at the beginning of the episode when no one was watching.  Hmm...

I'm going to be upfront here:  This episode really annoyed me for the most part.  I like Mildew.  I think he's a highly entertaining antagonist.  But his shtick is getting tedious.  Especially because, once again, his plot was revealed to the audience right off the bat, but then treated as a "mystery" for most of the rest of the episode.  The plot of the dragons getting sick was pretty well done, but I just simply could not enjoy it because I knew it was going to lead to yet another moment where Hiccup confronts Mildew and he denies it despite his obvious guiltiness.  And that's just what happened.  That was a fine story before.  But it's already old and irritating to see repeated again.

The episode's only real saving grace was the ending, which featuring a genuinely thrilling sea battle with a new type of dragon, thought to be able to help cure the other dragons of their disease.  Mildew finally got some long overdue comeuppance and it led to a surprisingly humorous conclusion for the story arc.

Dragon Flower's conclusion shows to me that the team behind Riders of Berk has it in them to make this show great.  But they need to lay off using the same Mildew plot over and over or the show is going to get stale.  Riders of Berk is still going strong at this point, but I'll be curious to see how long it keeps its momentum from here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dragons Review: "Portrait of Hiccup As a Buff Man"

This review contains more overt SPOILERS than my reviews normally do.

Portrait of Hiccup As a Buff Man?  That's an odd title!  Believe it or not the name is actually literal.  As it turns out, there is a proud tradition of displaying portraits of the island chief and their son in the Great Hall.  When the portrait of Stoic and Hiccup is unveiled, Hiccup is disappointed to see that he has been portrayed as a muscular young viking, more like how Stoic would prefer him to be remembered.  Oh sure, Hiccup figured out how to tame dragons, but he's just so...small.  Determined to prove to his father that muscles aren't everything, Hiccup sets off on a riddle-laden quest to find a legendary treasure that even Stoic had been unable to find.

Weird title aside, this was another enjoyable episode...for the most part.  I was especially pleased to see that it did not rely on the formula of having two seemingly unrelated plot points that come together in a predictable way at the end, as several past episodes have done.  Instead we got to follow Hiccup and the gang on a treasure hunt.  And it was a pretty clever hunt!

There were just a couple of things about this episode that bugged me though.  The main thing was that all the way through the quest, the treasure hunt appeared to require dragons.  Fire in the ice cave.  Flying up to the serpent rock.  Using both heads of a Zippleback to remove rocks from a wall.  And, of course, wings to survive the long fall at the end.  It's well established that no one trained dragons before Hiccup.  So how would one ever go about hunting for this treasure in the past?

The resolution of the episode tries to clear this up by saying you have to be a "hiccup" to solve the clues and find the treasure.  Evidently a "hiccup" on Berk refers to the runt of the litter.  Seems kind of cruel for Hiccup's parents to name him that then!  So...only spindly little wimpy vikings have the brains to solve the riddles?  Okay, but Hiccup still wouldn't have gotten very far without a dragon or two, plus all his friends, to help out.  It was annoyingly contrived.

Plot holes and story issues aside, this was still a fun episode.  Probably the weakest one so far, but still entertaining.  There were some great set pieces, with the Fireworm dragon scene being particularly well done.  Those story didn't make a lot of sense but, hey, we still got to see Toothless on the screen for a half hour!  I look forward to seeing what Dragons has to offer next.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


For all my loyal readers out there (now that's wishful thinking!) this week's Dragons review will be a few days late since I'm not going to be able to watch the episode when it premieres.  I'll still write one!  It'll just be a bit late.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll actually write something else in the meantime?  (Ha!  More wishful thinking!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dragons Review: "How to Pick Your Dragon"

Dragons returns in its new Wednesday night time-slot.  Stoic has decided it's time to embrace the new way of life and wants to learn how to fly on a dragon.  Unsurprisingly, his attempts to fly on Toothless are a bit less than successful at first.  But Hiccup is able to convince his father that having a dragon would make his job as the island chief much easier.  It has unintended consequences, however, as Stoic beings to take Toothless out flying everyday, leaving Hiccup dragon-less.  (And Toothless is none too thrilled to be lugging around a four hundred pound viking all the time either.)  Can Hiccup find Stoic his own dragon that is as good as Toothless?

Oh yeah, and there's a rogue never-before-seen dragon terrorizing Berk.  Where could this story be going, I wonder?

Yeah, this yet another episode of the series to have it's plot be painfully predictable.  But, at the very least, it doesn't really try to hard to hide that fact.  Heck, even the commercial for the episode flat out reveals that Stoic ends up riding on the new dragon.  It's not meant to be much of a reveal.  Instead "How to Pick Your Dragon" focuses on making the story as entertaining as possible, if not especially surprising.  And, despite being predictable, "How to Pick Your Dragon" does tell a unique story that could only be told in the world of Dragons, rather than relying on television cliches like several past episodes.

Admittedly, Hiccup taking his father on a reprise of the "romantic flight" scene from the film (complete with the musical score) comes off a lot goofier than it was likely intended.  But beyond that this is another fairly solid episode, and it was nice to see Stoic's character continue to be fleshed out.  The climax of the episode was also a bit on the silly side, but it was still quite entertaining to watch and had an extremely satisfying conclusion.

These reviews are starting to sound redundant, but honestly there still hasn't been a poor episode of Riders of Berk.  The show's biggest flaw is being predictable, and "How to Pick Your Dragon" is no exception, but the episodes still manage to provide solid enough storytelling and great enough visuals that the predictability of the plot does not get in the way.  Bring on the next episode!