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TV Series Review

Back in 1993, when cartoons were still mostly hand-drawn and Buzz Lightyear was still just a gleam in fledgling Pixar's corporate eye, a pair of vegetables changed the face of children's Christian entertainment.

For nearly a decade, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber—two unassuming vegetables with a love for the Bible and a knack for witty storytelling—were off-the-hook superstars. The direct-to-video VeggieTales franchise they fronted were must-haves for almost every Christian family with kids of a certain age (and maybe a few that didn't have any kids at all). While the VeggieTales empire imploded shortly after the release of the feature-length Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Bob and Larry and the rest of the cast never completely got out of the biz. And even after 24 years, these veggies are still ripe for the watching … on Netflix.

They've Never Been to Boston in the Fall

The VeggieTales franchise is now part of DreamWorks Animation, a company that cranks out a slew of other animated shows for Netflix (including The Adventures of Puss in Boots, Dawn of the Croods and Voltron: Legendary Defender). Bob and Larry have appeared on that streaming network since 2009, and the latest series, VeggieTales in the City, is actually VeggieTales' second show on Netflix. (The first, VeggieTales in the House, ran for four seasons.)

Naturally, this new incarnation feels a bit different than we might remember from its direct-to-video heyday.

First, the show is more tightly honed in upon its primary audience: elementary school-age children. Sure, VeggieTales in the City still offers some winks to parents watching. When a bevy of veggies gets stranded on a desert island and begin to panic, for instance, we hear Madam Blueberry fret, "I'm going to befriend a volleyball!"—a nod to the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. But for the most part, the demographic-leaping charm I remember from those early VeggieTales DVDs is harder to find now. This is a show for kids more than a show for the whole family.

Second—perhaps a nod to their intended audiences' shorter attention spans—each show (about 24 minutes, give or take) is divvied up into two episodes. As such, the stories are simpler, and you're not gonna hear many Silly Songs with Larry (alas). Some of the franchise's beloved voices have changed as well.

But if VeggieTales feels a bit juiced of its trademark wit, the heart is all still there.

Oooh! Digital Flannelgraph!

Netflix's execs have said that they want to provide programming for everybody. And while many of the company's highest-profile shows can be salacious and even sleazy, let's give the streaming service props for letting these veggies stay true to their roots—roots buried deep in the Bible.

That's important: when VeggieTales moved briefly to NBC, the franchise's Christian foundation was controversially minimized—much to the chagrin of VeggieTales visionary Phil Vischer. Not so here: while VeggieTales in the City still focuses more on teaching kids about character and morality rather than offering lessons straight from Sunday school, mentions of God and the Bible are still sprinkled throughout each episode. And each show once again features Bob and Larry's signature sign-off, the one that NBC scuttled: "Remember kids, God made you special, and He loves you very much."

Phil Vischer, by the way, is involved in this production, and he and longtime VeggieTales co-creator Michael Nawrocki continue to voice Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber (among a bunch of other characters).

Content-wise, VeggieTales in the City is as fresh and clean as a newly scrubbed cucumber. Sure, Bob's heart may beat a bit faster in the presence of Madam Blueberry, but they keep their hands well to themselves (made easier by their lack of hands). And while a vegetable might tip over now and then, we never have to worry about serious injuries. Real grocery-store vegetables are more likely to sport bruises than these computer-generated ones.

Back when it was new, VeggieTales invited a whole generation of Christian families love their veggies. Now, more than two decades later, the vegetables might not feel quite as fresh—but there's still an awful lot to like here.

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

VeggieTales in the City: Sept. 15, 2017 "Stranded/Junior Gets a Sister"



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Voices of Mike Nawrocki as Larry the Cucumber; Phil Vischer as Bob the Tomato/Archibald Asparagus/Pa Grape/Mr. Lunt; Tress MacNeille as Laura Carrot/Junior Asparagus/Petunia Rhubarb/Madam Blueberry/Tina Celerina; Rob Paulsen as Ichabeezer/Bacon Bill/Motato






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On Video

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Paul Asay

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