Bible studies will never be the same after kids have feasted on Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. It’s anarchic and anachronistic animated fun, peppered with terrific sing-a-long tunes and a spicy delight of veggie characters. With all its wholesomeness, however, Jonah gets my PGG (Parental Guidance for Girls) rating because of its shameful dearth of female characters.
Jonah is the first feature film emerging from the wildly successful VeggieTales video series. It was directed/written/narrated by two enormously witty, talented, visionary Protestants out of suburban Chicago who want kids to learn old-fashioned Christian ideals from action-packed, joke-filled entertainment. If you think a Bible movie starring a singing asparagus who rides a camel named Reginald is guaranteed for the garbage disposal, then you obviously don’t have any kids in Christian classrooms.
Although the veggie cast wears a variety of hats and hairdos that help portray their characters, they don’t have any arms or feet, so they hop everywhere, like flat-bottomed pogo sticks. You just have to suspend your disbelief on how Bob the Tomato can drive a van without any arms and accept that Jonah can’t swim even if he wanted to. Once those bits of reality stop nagging at you, you can dive right in with the kids and have a whale of a good time.
In one story line, a van full of veggie kids and adults has an edge-of-the-seat near-miss that lands them at a very strange seafood restaurant. Here the Pirates Who Don’t Like To Do Anything fascinate them with an ancient tale.
In another scenario, we are transported to Old Testament Israel (educational map and all) to meet Jonah, the singing asparagus-prophet who speaks like a snooty English butler. Jonah’s beloved job is to travel around Israel on his camel announcing messages from God. One day God tells Jonah to spread his word to Nineveh. Jonah is horrified. Nineveh is a wicked town where citizens are always slapping one another with fish. It’s far away from Israel and certainly not a town filled with the “chosen” people. Jonah ignores God’s orders, sails with the pirates in the opposite direction and ends up in all kinds of trouble. His sidekick is a Muslim-like carpet-selling caterpillar named Khalil, who absorbs motivational sales tapes, but grows tired of listening to Jonah’s ego. “The world doesn’t need more people who are big and important,” Khalil reprimands him. “We need people who are nice and compassionate!” Poor Jonah is always giving the message but not getting it.
The earthshaking, rafter-shivering Gospel-singer angels inside the whale’s belly remind Jonah, “Our God is a god of second chances.” Finally Jonah gets it: He must treat everybody the same merciful way God has treated him. All the saints are happy. (Don’t leave until the credits are finished or you’ll miss one of the funniest songs.)
Although Jonah is a tale of patriarchal times, it’s a movie aimed at today’s children. Leaving girls and women almost entirely out of the story is sin by omission. May the Prayer-of-Jabez success that Jonah will obviously enjoy give the guys at VeggieTales a second chance to do right.