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VeggieTales creator Big Idea up for sale after lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Big Idea Productions, the creators of the popular Christian children’s cartoon “VeggieTales,” is for sale after losing a breach of contract lawsuit and expanding the company too soon, according to Christian Retailing Online.

A federal judge in Texas upheld a jury verdict against Big Idea in favor of its former distributor, Lyrick Studios, Inc., according to the July 10 article. Lyrick, the Texas-based distributor of children’s properties such as “Barney” and “Wishbone,” sued Big Idea for allegedly breaking a verbal contract when the company moved its mainstream market distribution to Warner Home Video in 2001.

The judge upheld the jury’s $11 million award and added court fees, attorney fees and interest, which was expected to cripple Big Idea without outside financial help or a sale of the company.

According to Big Idea’s CEO and chief creative officer Phil Vischer in an interview with Christian Retailing, Big Idea made the change to Warner after Lyrick’s owner and mission statement changed. Vischer believed the action was justified because the two companies had failed to produce a signed contract after three years of negotiations.

“We thought we were right in leaving Lyrick for three reasons,” Vischer told Christian Retailing. “No. 1, we had never signed a contract. No. 2, we had inserted a ‘key man’ clause in the contract we were negotiating that would allow us to leave Lyrick if the Christian owner Dick Leech left the company. Third, we had also put in a ‘change in control’ clause to allow us to leave if the company was sold. When Dick sold Lyrick and died two months later, we clearly felt that both of those clauses had been invoked.”

Vischer said Lyrick’s attorneys persuaded the jury to believe Big Idea left Lyrick because the VeggieTales company wanted more money, which Vischer says was not the case.

In addition to the crippling lawsuit penalties, Big Idea is suffering from a premature move to expand the company, Christian Retailing reported. Just before the release of its first full-length feature film, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie,” Big Idea employed more than 200 people. The company is now down to 45 employees.

“We got ourselves upside down financially when everything was working wonderfully,” Vischer told Christian Retailing. “When things were doing so well, I thought that was God wanting us to expand, so we grew like crazy. Now I think it was more me having all these great ideas in my head and being so excited that I wanted to do them all at once.”

Despite the company’s challenges, Vischer said that the original creative team is still in place and plans to move forward even under a new owner.

“We are just as dedicated as we ever were,” Vischer told Christian Retailing. “The future is not going to look exactly like the picture I had painted in my head, and I don’t know exactly what it is going to look like. But I think I am supposed to let God shape it, and if He wants to shape it with more than just me, so be it.”

Big Idea, based in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, is moving forward with the August release of a new VeggieTales video, “The Ballad of Little Joe,” a re-priced “classics” line on video and DVD, marketing partnerships with companies like Tyson Foods and Chuck E. Cheese, and several upcoming new VeggieTales titles in 2004.

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