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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Jonah,’ a whale of a good time

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Big Idea’s “VeggieTales” — “Bob the Tomato,” “Larry the Cucumber,” “Archibald Asparagus,” “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” and the rest of the vegetable medley — which kids (and adults) have come to love over the last decade are making their big screen debut Oct. 4 with the much-anticipated release of “Jonah — a VeggieTales Movie.”

The feature film, coming to more than 1,100 screens across America, will not disappoint fans who have grown to love the vibrant artwork, moral storytelling and, yes, those silly songs and toe-tapping show-stoppers VeggieTales is famous for delivering.

“At Big Idea, we want to infuse the culture with family entertainment that’s fun and good,” founder and creator Phil Vischer said. “We’ve always wanted to make movies — not just half-hour videos, but real movies with ticket takers, concession stands and, yes, sticky floors!”

VeggieTales co-creator Mike Nawrocki said in an interview with Florida Baptist Witness, “Our hope is that parents and kids will go home after the film to read the biblical account and have a better understanding about the story’s theme of God’s compassion and mercy.” Nawrocki was co-writer and co-director of Jonah.

Frank Page, a Southern Baptist pastor and scholar, was an academic source for the creative team who wrote Jonah, Nawrocki said. Page’s commentary on Jonah in Broadman & Holman’s New American Commentary series was “a major source in researching the film,” Nawrocki said, adding that “getting the theology right is very important to us.”

Nawrocki said Jonah is a “lighthearted retelling wrapped in a present-day account” of the prophet who at first flees from God’s command to preach to the hated Ninevites (who lie, steal and “slap people with fishes”). Jonah then experiences his own judgment and repentance in the belly of a great fish and, in the end, sees a turning to God in Nineveh, much to his great displeasure.

Along the way, Jonah meets “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” and “Khalil” — the half-worm, half-caterpillar who becomes his companion while on the pirates’ S.S. Lazy Susan.

The movie illustrates well the role of a prophet as being much like a mailman — but one who delivers messages to the people from God himself. Jonah, like the biblical account, is portrayed as an arrogant prophet who does not want the God of Israel to show compassion and mercy to the evil people of Nineveh.

The moral of the story is that everyone — even the Ninevites — should be given a second chance. Since God is compassionate and merciful, we also should be. The turning point in the film comes in the belly of the great fish (illustrated as a huge whale) when an angelic mass choir sings “Second Chances,” performed by musical artists Anointed, to a repentant Jonah.

My 11-year-old son reminded me after we saw Jonah that it was different from other retellings of the biblical story for children in that the movie doesn’t end with the repentance of the city, but sees the story through to the bitter ending, including Jonah’s anger toward God for not wiping out Nineveh. (Big Idea’s modern-day story within the story, meanwhile, has a different outcome.)

As Big Idea moves to the big screen, some fans will wonder whether the children’s videos parents have come to rely upon for fun, family entertainment relaying biblical values may be compromised by a distribution partnership with Artisan Entertainment, which has been known for what even Big Idea’s promotional materials calls “edgy.”

Big Idea, which has sold more than 25 million videos and nearly 3 million albums since the 1993 release of “Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?” is clearly concerned about the perception of its partnership with Artisan — they included a frequently asked questions section in their promotional materials about the distribution deal.

Big Idea is quick to point out that Artisan has no control over the content of the film and that Jonah — one of two pictures in the initial deal — is actually distributed by Artisan’s Family Home Entertainment, which has also distributed such faith-related titles as “The Miracle Maker — The Story of Jesus” and “Greatest Heroes of the Bible.”

Still, parents should not be confused about Big Idea’s objectives — this is a for-profit company in the business of making wholesome, family entertainment that sells to the wider masses.

“As much as we want to teach, as much as parents want us to teach lessons to their kids, and as much as we want to put impressive images on a screen, we never forget that we’re in the entertainment business,” Vischer said. “And if our films don’t first entertain a whole family, it doesn’t matter what else we’ve tried to do, because they’re not going to be there. They’re going to be out of the room.”

Some Christians will see Jonah as a helpful form of pre-evangelism — gently introducing biblical concepts to unbelievers as a means of gaining a hearing for the gospel. “I really hope that we are laying a groundwork that can be built upon later by parents and the child’s community of faith,” Nawrocki told the Witness.

Jonah is a great, fun movie that is entertaining for the whole family, but it cannot replace the Bible in communicating the inerrant message of God. Nevertheless, Christians who are concerned about the lack of family friendly entertainment produced by Hollywood should give a boost to Big Idea and take the whole family (at least once!) to see Jonah — it’s a whale of a good time!
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JONAH.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.