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!

No comments:

Post a Comment