Our family was never hugely into Veggie Tales, but we saw and enjoyed enough of them to be able to sing along with the theme song, “Where Is My Hairbrush,” “Barbara Manatee,” and others. I wasn’t too crazy about their adaptations of Bible stories: I didn’t think building a silly plot around them served them well. But I enjoyed the stories that dealt with life issues that kids face, like being afraid of the dark. I was sad to see the decline of the company, Big Idea. Some years ago I read an interview with Veggie Tales creator, Phil Vischer, about what had happened, which motivated me to get his book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables,when I saw it on sale for the Kindle.
Phil goes into his background as a shy, nerdy kid with a quirky sense of humor and interests in filming and computers which dovetailed when computer animation began to be possible. Watching MTV videos, he was enthralled with the filming but appalled at the morals (or lack of them) in many of the videos. Years later in a media conference he heard a Viacom chairman share “how he intended to hook kids with Blue’s Clues, then lead them through Nickelodeon straight to MTV.” Phil wanted to make films that God could use. “I knew God wanted me to tell stories that promoted biblical values, and I wanted to do that through any available means.”
He dropped out of college, married, worked for a computer animation company, and experimented in his spare time. I didn’t always quite follow some of the few technical parts, but I got enough to know that, with the animation equipment and software at the time, he needed characters without arms, legs, or hair. He started with a candy bar until his wife commented that moms probably wouldn’t appreciate a candy bar being the hero of the stories, so he switched to vegetables. His wife (the voice of Junior Asparagus!) and a few friends joined him in working on the idea, and eventually Veggie Tales was born. The whole process of how it came to be and then grew is pretty fascinating. Fun fact: they were aiming for moms who bought videos for their kids, but the only marketing that was done was a cardboard cutout in bookstores, which didn’t seem to draw much interest. Veggie Tales was launched into the public eye by young adults and college students working in Christian bookstores who got bored with the same videos playing on display, popped Veggie Tales in, loved it, and recommended it.
Once Veggie Tales caught on, they experienced a meteoric rise in popularity and the company grew exponentially (becoming at one point “the best-selling Christian videos series in history, and the number two kids’ videos series in the world at that time, trailing only Pokemon”), but that turned out to be its downfall. Enthusiastic hiring, too much and too quickly, drove expenses up far beyond income. A lack of vetting allowed new employees who weren’t on the same page, even among the upper management, creating dissension within. Some of the experts they brought in specialized in packaged goods, which seemed plausible since Veggie Tales was sold as videos, but no one had experience in the entertainment industry. The company landed in bankruptcy, the final nail in the coffin being a lawsuit involving an unsigned contract (unsigned yet precisely because they had not yet come to mutually agreeable terms), which, inexplicably, was ruled in favor of the other company. The ruling was eventually overturned, but by that time the company had been sold. I had been dismayed to see Veggie Tales on network TV without its Biblical underpinning, but Phil explains that by that time, the company was in other hands. He was asked to stay on to provide voices and some help with animation, and was led to believe that the program would be the same, minus a specific Bible verse, but eventually learned that no religious content would be allowed.
As Bob the tomato so often wrapped up a Veggie Tales video discussing what we’ve learned today, Phil’s last few chapters discuss handling the crushing death of a dream, a dream that seemed to have been given by God and was being used by Him. Why didn’t He “rescue” Veggie Tales? While we don’t know the exact answer to that, one thing Phil learned was the difference between driving oneself for God and being led by Him. Though the whole book is fascinating, this is where the gold is.
Rather than asking God directly, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my work for Christ might be. Missionary conferences pitched mission fields at us kids like travel agents pitching vacation packages. Watch the slides—make a commitment. But overseas missions didn’t seem right for me, so I kept looking. Eventually, I found a place where my storytelling gifts seemed to line up with a need that was tugging at my heart–a need to express God’s Word through popular media. And that would be my work for Christ!
“If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and God shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you–the dream or him.”
Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my drive to do “good work.” The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized that I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail–a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream.
I started to get it. The Christian life wasn’t about running like a maniac; it was about walking with God. It wasn’t about impact; it was about obedience.
What is “walking with God?” Simple. Doing what he asks you to do each and every day. Living in active relationship with him. Filling your mind with his Word, and letting that Word penetrate every waking moment.
The God who created the universe is enough for us–even without our dreams…God was enough for the martyrs facing lions and fire–even when the lions and the fire won. And God is enough for you.
The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact. It occurs when we’re pursuing God.
I very much enjoyed Phil’s story, the behind-the-scenes look into how Veggie Tales came to be, learning what happened to it and to Phil, and what God taught him through the whole process.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)