Food Groups

Cartoons have a broad, almost universal, appeal. While Saturday morning programming may be mostly aimed at youngsters (the only ones with the energy and self-esteem to be awake that time of day), teens and adults get their dose of animated mischief the rest of the week. Shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and Futurama make (or, where appropriate, made) it OK for adults to choose cartoons as prime time viewing. Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup offers still more programming--Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021, Space Ghost Coast to Coast--for those who take their cartoons with Jack Daniel's rather than juice boxes. Chalk it up to our love of perversity: There's something distinctly, naughtily fascinating about animated characters who drink, swear and screw. Unfortunately, the cartoon qualities that draw adult approval often make for difficult, hot-seat questions in a mixed-age audience ("Mommy, why did that yellow man take off all his clothes?").

We state unequivocally that we can't bear children's programming; we would rather read the TiVo manual than sit and watch Dora the Explorer or Blue's Clues. But in college, we noticed a strange phenomenon--an odd series of children's programming had become the latest craze. Teens haven't been shy in co-opting the cartoon culture in the form of Care Bears backpacks and My Little Pony T-shirts. But this time it was different--sure, our friends had the licensed stuffed animals, the keychains, the coffee mugs, but they were also actually watching the series. That was near the beginning of Big Idea's VeggieTales videos, but now, sing out the line "If you like to talk to tomatoes..." in a crowd and Lord knows who will sing back the next line--a preschooler or a grad student.

The VeggieTales videos revolve around Bible stories or moral lessons aimed at children, but with adult-friendly jokes and asides mixed in and, of course, a heaping helping of vegetables. (Though you have to interpret the "veggie" thing kind of loosely as the stories feature tomatoes, grapes, blueberries and other non-vegetables.) Under the Veggie treatment, the Biblical tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego becomes Rack, Shack and Benny while the familiar account of David and Goliath is titled Dave and the Giant Pickle. The stories themselves are played pretty straight, and it's the series narrators, Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus, that usually get the laughs. That and the habit of interrupting the story with an "and now for something completely different" moment in the form of "Silly Songs with Larry" or, occasionally, "Love Songs with Mr. Lunt," a decorative gourd with the sensibilities of a Latin lover. And the songs are extremely silly but memorable. Days later, you'll find yourself singing, "Oh, where is my hairbrush?" or "I've never bathed in yogurt and I don't look good in leggings and I've never been to Boston in the fall!"

For fans who just aren't satisfied by the "cauliflower, sweet and sour, half an hour" of VeggieTales on each video, Big Idea presents VeggieTales Rockin' Tour LIVE, a stage show that promises fun with your favorite characters and songs from the series plus new faces and tunes. So "if a squash can make you smile, if you like to waltz with potatoes up and down the produce aisle," has VeggieTales Rockin' Tour LIVE got a show for you. These greens can't guarantee vitamins and minerals, only a hilarious time.

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Michelle Martinez

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